As far as meals go, breakfast is the one that invariably outshines the rest.
It’s the initial eat of the day and if you’re lucky enough, the one whose scent coaxes you out of bed with a smile on your face and rumble in your belly. The limited possibilities of breakfast only succeed in making it that more special as last night’s leftovers can be neatly ignored in favour of buttery toast, a fragrant pot of coffee served black and the crackle and hiss of a hot frying pan. Or in the case of this particular post, the urgent steam of a pot full of boiling water, into which an egg would soon begin it’s well-timed swim.
So for as long as I can remember, a breakfast that consisted of a boiled egg was seen as a special one. Growing up in the age of eating on the go, breakfast during my school-going years mainly featured an assortment of overpriced muesli, chocolatey puffed rice and fruit-flavoured yoghurt, usually watery and overly sweet. The English Breakfast with its (if done well) crispy fried eggs and bacon, chipolata sausage, gelatinous baked beans and squashy mushrooms was a rare treat, and one that came with a week’s worth of guilt as to the amount of butter and bacon fat that went along with it (this of course was pre-Banting). Croissants came around sporadically and I always felt terribly grown-up when eating one – except for the small pots of marmalade whose contents would mingle with any greasy crumbs that flaked off while I was busy and always seem to reside, stickily, in the crook of my arm.
But no matter what cartoonish cereal I consumed during the week, every Sunday was Boiled Egg day – a breakfast reserved exclusively for my mother and I. Two places would be carefully set at the table, morning sunlight streaming through the cottage-pane windows and the sounds of her Lighthouse Family CD adding to the feeling of sanctuary that this particular day of the week evoked. A small lidded saucepan – often reserved solely for the purpose – would perch over the gas hob, bubbling in anticipation of the set of smooth brown eggs that would soon descend into its depths. This of course could only take place after the latter had been swiftly perforated with the red plastic egg pricker that had a habit of biting an errant finger found scrabbling absent-mindedly in the drawer for baking paper or toothpicks. Two slices of toast would sit expectantly in the toaster, dormant for now. Either fresh white or a darkly seeded brown, the toast would be cut thickly to ensure an optimal dipping experience. Halved into triangles for Mum, sliced into soldiers for me and always generously buttered. Later on I discovered the pleasures of adding a little grated garlic and mashed anchovy fillets to softened butter for my toast, and this changed the humble boiled egg to something ultimately more exotic. But the only seasonings that enhanced the eggs of my childhood was a dusting of fine black pepper and a shake of luridly yellow Aromat that to this day continues to brighten up the breakfast table at home.
Taking note of the time on her watch, my mother would then carefully lower each egg into the swirling water, replace the pot’s lid and push down the lever of the toaster. Almost as if the anticipation was too much for me to bear, I avoided the stovetop and instead set up camp at the dining table, pretending to be engrossed in the nonsensical muddle of the Sunday papers but still casting the occasional lingering glance in the direction of the small hissing pot. After what felt like a lifetime, amid a clatter of porcelain egg cups against side plates, my egg would arrive in front of me – a delicate curl of steam emanating from the saffron-hued centre and the smallest bits of crackled shell clinging to the circumference of opaque egg white. First a dash of pepper, followed by Aromat or salt, before plunging a finger of toast into it’s glowing depths – and a rush to collect any precious yolk that might have made a run for it down the side of the eggcup. Companionable silence succeeded, and apart from the discovery of an uninvited crunch of shell, broken only once each egg was devoured in it’s entirety, with only the empty orb – still warm – left as evidence of the alchemy that had so recently taken place.
Still a most beloved breakfast, now I rely on a dash of hot sauce with my boiled egg to make my morning meal complete. The acidic heat that combines so alluringly with the cloying richness of egg yolk is the consummate foil to the dip of toasted bread, and the burn aids in brightening up the egg white – an aspect that in my opinion, could be altogether omitted from an egg. I wouldn’t miss it.
I’ve consistently been an advocate of cultivating a runny yolk right the way through the egg and after much trial and error (I can’t bring myself to eat solid egg yolk), I’ve discovered that a set 5 minutes 30 seconds from a refrigerated temperature and a flat 5 minutes (or even 4.5 minutes) is the key in achieving a goldenly molten yolk. That and slicing the top off your egg the moment that it comes out of the boiling water. Eggs are notorious for self-cooking in their retained heat so it’s important to bypass any transmogrification past one’s desired outcome. The use of free-range eggs over battery ones is also tantamount to achieving perfection so make a point of opting for ethical. Nobody likes an anaemic egg yolk.
Aside from the more recent inclusion of toasted sourdough, grated Parmesan, grilled asparagus spears, crispy bacon bits, truffle oil and the aforementioned anchovy butter, today I still relish each minute spent over the preparation and eating of the simple boiled egg – discipline, delicacy and simplicity at its most epicurean. For me, this breakfast option is more than just avian offerings in hot water, it’s a nostalgic revisitation of an uncomplicated time. A time where I was more than content to sit in the morning sun, pretending to read my mother’s newspaper and dreaming of when I could learn the same magic that she used to present my eager appetite with what memory serves to be an as yet unequaled boiled egg.