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What is a Soft Boiled Egg?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A soft boiled egg is an egg which has been boiled for a brief period of time, so that the white is mostly cooked and the yolk is partially cooked and very runny. This cooking technique is intended to be used for eggs which will be consumed immediately, as these eggs do not keep well and they can be vulnerable to bacterial contamination.

Soft boiled eggs are extremely easy to make, and the quick cooking time makes them a useful way to get protein rapidly in the morning, for people who are trying to eat well before dashing off to work and other obligations. Eggs are generally good for nutrition, especially when they come from healthy chickens who have been eating varied diets, as the birds will pass on the vitamins and minerals they consume.

To make a soft boiled egg, place as many eggs as you wish to boil in a heavy saucepan, and cover them in water. Heat the saucepan on medium to high heat until it starts to boil, and then reduce the heat so that the eggs simmer. After two to five minutes, pull the eggs out and serve them immediately. The varying cooking times will produce eggs with very runny yolks to more firmer-yolked soft boiled eggs; you may develop your own soft boiled egg preference over time, in which case you might want to specify cooking times when someone is preparing soft boiled eggs for you. If you want some hard boiled eggs for later, leave them in the water for another 10-13 minutes after you remove the soft boiled eggs.

It can be challenging to eat a soft boiled egg without an egg cup, since the eggs cannot be peeled and eaten like hard boiled eggs, as this will cover the consumer in runny yolk. An egg cup is a small cup which has been designed to cradle an egg. The consumer can use a spoon to gently tap off the top of the soft boiled egg, exposing the inside, which may be sprinkled with salt, pepper, and other seasonings to taste. Typically the inside is scooped out with a spoon.

The cooking process used to make soft boiled eggs will kill off all but the most stubborn bacteria, as even though the yolk is not solidified, it has been warmed. You can reduce the risk of bacterial contamination by washing the egg before cooking it. Many people also like to pierce their eggs before boiling them to reduce the risk of cracking and potential explosions, although this is not necessary if the eggs have been slowly brought to temperature with the boiling water.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Boomerang — On May 07, 2010

I'm amazed that nobody mentions the British and their boiled eggs. I've read that the royal family have soft-boiled eggs every morning, and that when their chef tries to substitute fried, poached or scrambled, they cross it off and write "boiled" on the menu.

I'm also amazed that this article says "It can be challenging to eat a soft boiled egg without an egg cup...". I've been eating soft-boiled eggs since childhood, and to me the real challenge would be eating an egg in an egg cup!

A small bowl (custard size) is really the easiest and best way to serve the egg. Here's how:

With a teaspoon, remove the egg from the hot water and rinse it under cold water to stop the cooking. Hold the egg, wrapped in a paper napkin, in your hand and whack it at the middle with a dinner knife. If very runny, let it run into the bowl. Then split it in two and spoon the cooked part out of each shell into the bowl. To eat, dip your toast into the bowl for the good runny part and use the spoon for the rest.

Also, some people, including my mother (and, apparently, Ernest Hemingway, as he wrote it in one of his novels) add a pat of butter to the egg--can't do that with an egg cup!

Now, with an egg cup, how is a person supposed to remove the top of the egg without having the runny part go over the edges and all over the plate? Also, an egg cup is no good if you want more than one egg--unless you serve them in several egg cups. But why do that when a bowl will hold two or three eggs or more--just use a larger bowl!

I have never seen a soft-boiled egg served in an egg cup in a restaurant anywhere in the world, including England--it's always been in a small bowl.

As for cooking the egg, adding the egg to already-boiling water and timing it from then is much more reliable than putting the eggs in cold water is, unless you use the same amount of water every time. Otherwise, you won't know exactly how much time to allow for the water to come to a boil and it will throw off your timing.

Finally, I'm amazed that someone could have never heard of soft-boiled eggs! Don't children learn anything at home anymore?

By anon17029 — On Aug 20, 2008

Yes, I agree with obsessedwithloopy. I live in the USA, and my friend from Russia told me about this method of preparing eggs. I'd never heard of it-- and I was 18 years old. Now that I've got to taste this new way, I prefer it over the other ways. It just tastes great. I think that it's more interesting if you use cage-free eggs, though. It makes the dish all the more amazing!

By obsessedwithloopy — On Apr 22, 2008

I have noticed that in United States soft boiling eggs is less common practice then it is in Europe. I like soft boiled eggs, because they taste good, and there is nothing else needed, like butter or oil for example as it is if you want to scramble them.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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