Monday, August 22, 2005

The great egg mystery

Shortly after we came to Japan, a friend sent us a copy of an article written about the Japanese by AA Gill, which contained the following memorable phrase:
It's not that they're aliens; but they are the people aliens might be if they'd learnt Human by correspondence course.
Nowhere is this truer than in their cuisine.

There are few items of sushi that would not be improved by flashing them under a hot grill with a bit of butter and lemon juice. I strongly suspect that rotten squid guts (shiokara) and other similar monstrosities are just tricks to play on unsuspecting foreigners. But it's their treatment of eggs which I find particularly curious.

Firstly, there's the raw egg for breakfast. Before coming to Japan, I never imagined that the old party trick of telling whether an egg is cooked without breaking the shell would become an invaluable safety net in my life (spin the egg on the table; stop it momentarily and release; if it starts to spin again, it is raw). But at 4am after a poor night's sleep in a mountain hut, it is bad enough when the man next to you at breakfast stirs the egg into his rice and slurps it down noisily, without having to actually repeat the act oneself.

However, the mystery egg that I had with my dinner tonight and which inspired this blog entry was not raw, but soft-boiled. Of course we all know and love the western-style soft boiled egg, with firm white and runny yolk for dipping toast into. The preparation of this elegant culinary masterpiece has been the subject of much research, eg there are a bunch of formulae here, and another method hinted at on that page is to use a carefully temperature-controlled water bath at about 63-64C, at which temperature the white will congeal but the yolk will not.

Tonight's egg, however, was a complete mystery. The white was very runny, in fact barely cooked (mix of translucent and white, that poured easily). However, the yolk was firm! Not absolutely hard and crumbly, but a long way from being toast-dippable.

So, since the white congeals at a lower temperature than the yolk, how on earth did they do that? Some might say the really interesting question is why did they do that, but I've learnt not to even try to go there...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I know a bit late but...

Sounds like an onsen tamago. I quite like them, though I am not so keen on raw egg on rice (though I will eat it from time to time). Strangely, my 5 year old son's favourite breakfast is raw egg on rice with a little soy sauce, whereas my own is weetabix. Guess it takes all sorts.