Eggs are the breakfast cook’s best friend: creamy little packages of comfort, requiring nothing more than salt to shine. There are entire cookbooks devoted to preparing eggs; we’ve cut through the noise to give you these basic foolproof methods. Master them, and breakfast is taken care of forever.
Boiled or Steamed
Cooking whole eggs in a steamer basket provides more even, gentler heat than water, and the finished eggs are easier to peel.
Basic steamed method: Set a steamer basket above an inch of boiling water and add eggs in one layer. Cover the pot and steam for 5 to 6 minutes for runny yolks, 8 to 12 minutes for creamy or firm yolks. (Cooking times depend on whether the eggs are chilled or room temperature.)
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Basic hard-boiled method: Place eggs in a single layer in a heavy saucepan and cover with cold water by at least 1 inch. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Place over high heat. As soon as the water comes to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and cover the pan. For creamy yolks, remove the lid after 10 minutes and run cold water over eggs for 1 minute. Set aside to cool. For firmer yolks, leave the eggs to cool in the cooking water, uncovered, for up to 2 hours.
Stovetop: For up to 4 eggs, combine about 1 quart water, 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a pot or deep skillet. Bring water to a bare simmer, with bubbles forming on the bottom and only slight activity on the top. Crack each egg on the side of the pan and let the contents slide very gently into the water. Or break each egg into a ramekin; hold the ramekin just above the water and turn it over quickly but gently, to keep the whites and yolks close together. Cook until just firm, 4 to 5 minutes. When done, the yolks will be soft and plump, and the whites will be set but not tough. Use a slotted spoon to lift eggs out one at a time. Drain on paper towels.
Microwave: Crack an egg into a glass measuring cup or small bowl. Gently pour in warm water until it covers the egg by about 1/2 inch. Place in the microwave and cook (on low heat, if available) for 20 to 30 seconds. Check to see if the egg whites have begun to turn cloudy and opaque. Keep cooking in 10- to 15-second bursts until the white looks set. Over the sink, pour the contents of the cup through a slotted spoon and shake well to remove any uncooked egg white.
If you have extra time, cook them slowly, over low heat, which yields soft, creamy curds.
Quick-scrambled: For 2 or 3 servings, crack 6 eggs into a bowl and beat well with a whisk or a fork. Add 2 pinches salt; you can also beat in 1 tablespoon milk or cream. Over high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan or skillet (preferably nonstick) with high sides. When the butter foams, add the egg mixture and cook over medium to high heat, stirring continuously and vigorously with a whisk (use a silicone whisk if the pan is nonstick), just until the mixture is firming up into large curds. While the eggs are still quite soft and shiny, remove the mixture from the heat. The eggs will continue to cook in the residual heat. Serve immediately.
Sunny-side-up: Bring 2 eggs to room temperature. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet over the lowest possible heat. When butter is just melted but not bubbling or foaming, crack 1 egg into each side of the pan. The whites should stay clear for a few seconds before turning white; if they turn opaque immediately, the pan is too hot. Use a silicone spatula to gently separate the eggs from each other. Cook slowly; use the spatula to make a few slits through the white, to let the still-liquid parts spill into the bottom of the pan. When the whites are almost completely cooked (as long as 3 to 4 minutes), baste the eggs with the melted butter in the pan. To test if the yolk is done, touch it with your finger; it should feel warm or hot, not lukewarm. The last part to cook is the gelatinous ring of white around the yolk. Be sure not to remove the egg from the heat until that part is cooked through.
Over-easy: The same as above, but use higher heat. When the bottom of a fried egg is cooked but the yolk still undercooked, use a spatula to gently lift and fold the whites over the yolk from both sides. Carefully turn the folded egg over and cook 10 to 30 seconds longer.