Monday, July 09, 2012

How to boil a ramen egg, a.k.a. hanjuku or ajitsuke tamago

At some point in the hopefully not too distant future, I would like to write down my version of a ramen recipe, or more accurately, the constellation of recipes which go into its making. 

The operative word here being hopefully, I thought I would start with that all important single first step in the proverbial journey of a thousand miles. And which better than how to boil those damnably delicious eggs that crown a bowl of ramen? Far from being an incidental garnish, as an unapologetic egg overeater, I deem these perfectly soft-boiled then marinated eggs as mandatory. In fact, they may very well be the part of the ramen slurping experience I most enjoy. 

Of course, these eggs are a treat unto themselves, ramen or not, and thus not desultory should my concept of not too distant prove somewhat elastic.

A cursory glance at the wondrous interwebs will unleash torrents of information, oftentimes conflicting, regarding timing and technique. As will a consult with all your most trusted cookbooks, be they about egg cookery, Japanese street food, East Asian noodle dishes, comfort food, poultry, thelistgoeson.  

...Start with stone cold eggs. Or start with room temperature eggs. Place eggs in pan of cold water and bring to the boil or place eggs in pan of furiously boiling water. Pierce the eggs. Don't. Turn heat down to a simmer or turn heat off, clamp lid on, let sit. Use no more than a centimetre's depth of water. No, make sure there's at least a gallon in the pot. Salt, don't salt. Add vinegar, but why, for acidulating is an old wives tale...

Not the sort to put all my eggs in one basket, I have in all likelihood attempted younameit or variants thereof. And the conclusion?

Well. Many roads lead to Rome.

Also. That everybody has a different definition as to how precisely soft-boiled is perfectly soft-boiled. Which at the end of the day comes down to subjective preference.

To wit, you will find that everything from completely runny yolks (soft-cooked) to set-but-still-soft yolks (medium-cooked) constitutes somebody's idea of the ideal doneness in a ramen egg. And let's not get started on the hard-cooked ramen egg, because it too I've discovered has its fangirls and boys. Different strokes for different folks.


I'm personally not partial, so I won't delve.

Atop a bowl of ramen, for me, it's all about the soft. So the pertinent question is not hard or soft, but how soft exactly.

I prefer that Goldilocks degree of doneness, a doneness that lies somewhere betwixt soft-cooked and medium-cooked, neither too runny nor too soft-set. Just so. I guess it could be described as firmly soft-cooked, or slightly runny. In other words, an egg with set-but-supple white and a yolk circumscribed by a custardy, creamily pliant rim, yet atremble with a decidedly molten core.  If you like your ramen eggs the same way, the recipe that follows has your name on it. 

A few preliminary notes:
-I like salting the water. It doesn't season the eggs, but helps to quickly seal any leaks that may spring when you lower them into the water. 
-I like acidulating the water with vinegar. Again, it doesn't season the eggs, but helps to make peeling later on a tad easier.
-Old eggs peel much more easily than very fresh ones. So I like using old eggs. But no more than a week old.
-The cold water start is ostensibly to prevent rubbery whites. But it also means less control over cooking time - much depends on the number of eggs, the size and shape of the cooking vessel, the amount of water in the vessel, etcetcetc. Me? I want to know exactly how long to cook for each and every time - give or take 15 seconds depending on the size of eggs I'm using - so I prefer a boiling water start. If the heat is immediately turned down after the eggs have been added, the whites don't get even a remote stab at becoming rubbery, worry not on that front. 
-I always start with a few more eggs than I need. Not so much because of greedy forethinking - if only - but because the attrition rate is not insignificant. Out of the 10 eggs I usually cook, I typically get 6 to 7 nice ones. Some you lose to cracking in water, some during peeling.

-The number of eggs you cook at any one time in a given volume of water affects the cooking time. As does the size of the eggs. To get the result in the pictures, I cooked 10 eggs in 3 litres of water in a pan in which the eggs sit snugly in a single layer. The eggs weighed an average of 60 gm each. 
-These ramen eggs are fragile, fragile things. Take your time to peel them with the utmost care and a gentle touch. And even when, you'll still lose a few. Which is not to say the broken or unpretty aren't still damnably delicious and should of course be considered cook's perks.

-My marinade will strike you as salty. But that's because I like marinating for no more than an hour, two tops. Longer isn't always better. In this case, the longer the eggs sit in their savoury bath, the firmer the whites become. To me, this defeats the point of all that care I took with cooking them to begin with. So I make a strong bath in which the eggs only need a short time to pick up the requisite amount of flavour and colour without discernible change in texture. The marinade is salty, yes, but the resulting eggs aren't.
(Again, individual preference comes into play. I prefer eggs sheerly stained the merest sepia, that suggest not shout the soy marinade in which they sat. If you prefer something more emphatic and don't mind the tradeoff in terms of texture, please do look up a more dilute marinade in which you steep the eggs for longer.)

Perfectly Soft-Boiled Ramen Eggs
Yields 6 to 7 nice ones

10 eggs, room temperature not cold, each weighing about 60 gm, preferably free-range and 7 days old
3 litres water
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
2 Tbsp rice vinegar

The marinade:
75 ml usukuchi light soy sauce
75 ml water
75 ml mirin
3 Tbsp caster sugar

1.Prepare a large ice water bath. Have your chronograph or accurate digital timer at the ready.
2.Find a pan in which the 10 eggs can sit snugly in a single layer (you don't want something so large they can rattle about and crack and generally misbehave in). Fill pan with 3 litres of water. Bring to a rolling boil.
3.Add the sea salt and rice vinegar. When water returns to the boil, gently lower the eggs one at a time with a slotted spoon into the water. Immediately turn down the heat so the water barely simmers - there should only be pin dot sized bubbles rising up around the eggs, and the surface should shudder only occasionally and almost imperceptibly. From the moment all the eggs have been added, cook for 7 minutes for the aforedescribed doneness (PS: If your preference is for completely runny yolks, start testing at the 5 minutes 45 seconds mark).
4.Transfer the eggs using a slotted spoon into the ice water bath. Let cool completely.
5.When the eggs have cooled, tap them gently with the back of a teaspoon to crack the shells. Carefully peel them under cold running water; the whites are very fragile so do take extreme care.
6.Transfer eggs to a bowl in which they fit snugly in a single layer.
7.Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the eggs.  Place a triple-thickness of sarashi, muslin or cheesecloth (all of which lacking, paper coffee filters will do in a pinch) on top and gently press down until completely saturated with marinade - this helps keep the eggs submerged and ensures even tinting and flavouring.
8.Marinate the eggs at room temperature for an hour, and up to two. Strain and gently blot dry. Serve now or store the eggs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Note: To serve the eggs after storage, bring them to room temperature. Or if you need them hot, bring to room temperature and just before serving, immerse them in a bowl with hot water (by which I mean just-off-the-boil from the electric kettle) for 45 seconds. Even better, 30 seconds in gently simmering deeply flavourful broth, ramen stock or otherwise. 



Anonymous Michelle said...

I love the whole idea. I am tired of scrambled and sunny side up eggs. This recipe will surely change my breakfast.

9:00 pm, July 10, 2012  
Anonymous Leona Davis said...

Cool! I think it's just easy! :)

1:40 pm, July 16, 2012  
Anonymous Aun said...

Yummy... I trust you serve these with some homemade ramen. :p

7:04 pm, July 19, 2012  
Anonymous Stuart said...

Amazing. Your attention to detail is staggering. I feel like you do all the hard work and we just reap the benefits. Thanks!

5:41 pm, September 05, 2012  

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