Eggs are the breakfast cook's best friend: creamy little packages of comfort, requiring nothing more than salt to shine. And there's no breakfast more satisfying, quick and tasty. 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
Both of these methods produce perfectly hard-cooked or soft-cooked eggs, a satisfying and reliable player in any kitchen. With hard-cooked eggs, the trick is to make them before you need them; cook a carton and stash in the fridge for quick-fix meals. Soft-cooked eggs with runny yolks are a delight to eat from the shell and can be used just like a poached egg when scooped out of it. Cooking whole eggs in a steamer basket yields results that are like boiled eggs — or even better. Steam provides a 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. Close 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 cold from the fridge or at room temperature.)
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. Turn the heat to high. 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 at room temperature. For firmer yolks, leave the eggs to cool in the cooking water, uncovered, for up to 2 hours.
Basic soft-boiled method: The same as the hard-boiled method above, but use lukewarm water. As soon as the water comes to a gentle boil, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let stand for 2 minutes. Run cold water over eggs for 30 seconds.
The poached egg is the fluffy, ethereal member of the family. The traditional French method calls for breaking an egg into a churning whirlpool of simmering water. This is daunting for home cooks — and it's not necessary. (Chefs do it when they have lots of eggs to poach at once.) Here's an easy, foolproof method for poaching on the stove. Or poach an egg in the microwave, which is much quicker once you have nailed down the timing.
Basic stovetop method: For up to 4 eggs, combine about 1 quart water, 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 ½ teaspoons salt in a pot or deep skillet. Bring water to a bare simmer, with bubbles forming on the bottom of the pan and only slight activity on the top. If you are a confident cook, crack each egg on the side of the pan and let the contents slide very gently into the water. Otherwise, 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. Let cook until just firm, 4 to 5 minutes, keeping in mind that both the egg and the cooking water should be moving as little as possible. 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. Let drain on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. If you like, use the edge of the spoon or a small knife to trim any ragged edges.
Basic microwave method: Crack an egg into a glass measuring cup or small bowl. Gently pour in warm water until it covers the egg by about a half-inch. Place in the microwave and cook (on low heat, if available) for 20 to 30 seconds. Check to see if the translucent egg whites have begun to turn cloudy and opaque. Keep cooking in 10- to 15-second bursts until the white looks set. The yolk will be encased inside the white. Over the sink, pour the contents of the cup through a slotted spoon and shake well; this will drain off the cooking water and any uncooked egg whites. In the spoon: one perfect poached egg.
Providing the most satisfaction in the least amount of time, scrambled eggs should be a back-pocket breakfast for every cook. If you have extra time, you might cook them slowly, over low heat, which yields soft, creamy curds. But for the impatient or weekday cook, here's a method for scrambling hot and fast.
Basic quick-scrambled method: For 2 or 3 servings, crack 6 eggs into a bowl and beat well with a whisk or a fork. Add 2 pinches salt; if you like, you can also beat in 1 tablespoon milk or cream for a more moist scramble. Over high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of 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 of the pan.) Serve immediately.
Is there any dish more cheering than a perfect fried egg? It appears so simple: golden yolk, firm but tender white, buttery edges. But getting the yolk and whites cooked at the same time has challenged many great culinary minds. As is so often the case, room-temperature eggs and super-low heat are the keys to sunny-side-up success. If necessary, turn them over in the pan to speed up the yolks and call them over-easy.
Basic sunny-side-up method: 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 yet 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. Let 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.
Basic over-easy method: The same as above, but use higher heat under the pan. When the bottom of a fried egg is cooked but the yolk still undercooked, use your spatula to gently lift and fold the whites over the yolk from both sides. Carefully turn the folded egg over without breaking the yolk and let cook for 10 to 30 seconds more. Or, if you don't mind how it looks, just flip the whole egg over and don't bother with the folding.