When Delia Smith, the headmistress of British cooking dared to tell us how to boil an egg, we all felt rather insulted, not unlike Nigella Lawson returning to British television screens in November 2015 with a new series called Simply Nigella starring Lawson’s infamous ‘Avocado Toast’ in the first episode.
Fellow celebrity chef Gary Rhodes took the opportunity to defend Britain’s household cooks by presuming even the most incompetent knows how to boil an egg. It must have been a long time since Gary had honed such rudimentary skills and in no doubt his battery of chefs were similarly skilled but it has to be admitted there is nothing worse than ordering a Salad Nicoise and finding a rubbery egg with a black ringed yolk balanced in the greenery.
Delia had obviously ordered something similar to inspire the need to teach us about how to boil an egg. Albeit about as boring as washing your dishes dry, I have to admit she made some pretty interesting points on the topic. Back in the fifties, when we were less prickly about being told what to do, Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume, the founders of that venerable institution the Cordon Bleu School, showed no embarrassment telling us exactly how to cook eggs.
- Did you know that eggs taken from the fridge to boil are likely to crack? They should be left out to warm up before immersing in boiling water.
- If you tap the rounded end of the egg at the completion of cooking, this will prevent it from continuing to cook or going hard.
- Hard-boiled eggs should be boiled for ten minutes and then plunged into cold water.
Boiled Egg and Asparagus
Allow 1 duck egg and a half a dozen asparagus tips per person
Ground salt and pepper
2 slices of buttered, wholemeal toast
Thoroughly wash the tips to remove every bit of grit and leave to drain. Tie the bundle together lightly and stand in a pan deep enough to allow for this. This is easier if you use an asparagus basket but you can improvise by standing them in a Pyrex jug, for example, inside the pan. The stalks should be one-third immersed in simmering water and the heads will cook in the steam, seal the lid on the pan. They will need about three minutes depending on the thickness of asparagus tips.
Boil a pan of water big enough to take the number of eggs required. When the water is boiling, remove from the heat, lay the eggs in the bottom of the pan and return to the heat. Bring slowly back to the boil. Allow four-and-a-half minutes for a lightly-boiled egg and longer for a firmer egg. I cook a duck egg for about five minutes to ensure the white has set. Serve with some hot buttery toast and warm asparagus for dipping.
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 pt (600ml) double cream
1 vanilla pod
extra caster sugar for caramel top
Now for something sweet. This simple but delicious pudding was a specialty of Trinity College, Cambridge. Mix the yolks well with the sugar. Scrape the black seeds out of the vanilla pod using a knife and add these to the pan of cream. Bring the cream to scalding point, just below a simmer. Pour on to the yolks and stir well, return to the pan and thicken over a low heat. Be very careful not to allow the custard to boil or, indeed, move.
Pour into four individual ramekins or suitable bowls. At this stage, they can be left in the fridge, even overnight, until needed. Heat the grill, dust the surface with sugar and melt under the grill until the sugar has gone light brown. Cool before serving.