The main advantage of sous vide cooking is control. With a constant temperature water bath, you greatly decrease the danger of overcooking your food, which makes it a perfect method for the egg, a humble food that can be transcendent if cooked properly, but rubbery and sulfuric smelling if overdone.
Photos by Claire Lower and Christina Wylie. Illustration by Sam Woolley.
Picking the cooking time and temperature is the kind of tricky part. Luckily the Anova Precision Cooker comes with an app that is full of recipes. Just within the Anova app, there are over half a dozen different ways to cook an egg, all with their very specific times, temperatures and promises. Perfectly cooked eggs are the stars of my favourite breakfasts and brunches, so I was eager to try sous vide eggs out, but how convenient is cooking eggs this way, and does it really taste that much better? To find out, we cooked over two dozen eggs sous vide style, and ranked them from Grade A to rotten.
Incredible, Edible Eggs
Sous vide cooking isn't the fastest, but it is consistent. Heating up the water can take anywhere from a half to a whole hour, depending on your bath size, requiring a good bit of waiting around. The following egg prep methods are two that are definitely worth your time.
Perfect Poaching (61.7℃ 00h45m) by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
The only proper sous vide poached egg recipe I found was the Food Lab's and, frankly, it's the only one you need. You start out cooking your eggs at 62℃ for 45 minutes, which gives you a perfectly good soft-boiled egg. Then, you gently crack it open, slip it into a bowl and carefully scoop it out with a slotted spoon, letting the loose, watery white fall away. To finish, bring a pot of water to a simmer, then decrease the heat until the bubbles cease forming. Slip your egg in there for a minute to let it finish, and drain.
I was doubtful of how important this last step would be, but after trying it, I can say with confidence that this extra effort transforms an already tasty soft-cooked egg into a beautiful, restaurant quality poached egg that begs to be Benedict'd. (I didn't get that far with mine; I just ate it with a little salt.) Because the egg is already cooked, it holds together and develops a uniform skin much better than a raw one (duh). This makes for one good lookin' egg.
Yes, this does take a touch more time than a soft-cooked egg (which we'll talk about in a moment), and I wouldn't do it every day, but if you want to poach a bunch of eggs for a group brunch? This is the way to go. You can cook a dozen in the sous vide at a time (even the day before) and then finish them in that barely simmered water right before you serve them on a perfectly toasted English muffin. Plus, they just look really pretty.
Recipe Rating: The makings of an egg-stravagant brunch
Scrambled Eggs Are In the Bag
I'd never thought I'd say this, but I love scrambled eggs in a bag. There are two different scramble recipes in the Anova app. One is just eggs, cooked in a bag and agitated every once in a while, and one is eggs with milk, cream, and melted butter, cooked in a bag agitated every once in a while. Both are good, but one is exceptional. (Spoiler: it's the one with cream and butter.)
Sous Vide Scrambled Eggs (73.9℃ 00h30m, gently agitated every 10 minutes) by Emily Farris and Jeff Akin (Anova app)
Without any milk, butter, or anything other than just a little salt and pepper, these were by far some of the creamiest, cream-less eggs I'd ever had, and they had large, fluffy curds, that melted in my mouth. The only thing they were missing was the taste of butter, which is what I usually cook my eggs in, but that "problem" was solved by the next recipe.
Recipe Rating: Simply egg-cellent
Heston's Sous Vide Scrambled Eggs (75℃ 00h15m) by Christina Wylie (Anova app)
This Heston Blumenthal-inspired recipe is usually topped with brown butter, but I wanted to taste them on their own, lest the butter distract from the taste of the eggs. Plus, there are already some rich additives at work here. To make these for one person, whisk three eggs together with a tablespoon each of cream, whole milk, and melted butter. Salt and pepper to taste and pour it all in a bag. Place the bag in the water bath for fifteen, taking out every five minutes to gently agitate.
The other scramble was good, but these eggs were simply amazing. "Custardy" is the word I kept mumbling to myself under my breath. These smooth, velvety scrambled eggs had a pleasant jiggle to them, and the taste of rich, delicious yolk permeated each bite.
Recipe Rating: Egg-static applause
Cooking Them Softly
There is definitely more than one way to soft-cook an egg and picking the "best" one comes down to a matter of preference. The beauty of soft-cooking an egg using a sous vide is that you're going to get pretty much the same results every time. (Variances could come about due to differences in egg size, whether you plunge 'em in straight from the fridge or let them come to room temperature first, etc.) The annoying thing about soft-cooking an egg this way is that it takes a good bit of time. Even with the shortest cook time (13 minutes) heating the water to temperature can take anywhere from half to a whole hour, depending on how big your vessel is. So, if you need a soft-cooked egg now, a more traditional method is probably the way to go.
That being said, soft-cooked sous vide eggs are tasty, and there are three different ways you can go about it.
Sous Vide Egg (75℃ 00h13m) recipe by Christina Wylie (Anova app)
The remarkable thing about this egg is that both the egg and the white had the same, custardy texture. If anything, the yolk was just a tad firmer than the white.
Sous Vide Soft-Boiled Egg (63.3℃ 00h45m) recipe by Emily Farris and Jeff Akin (Anova app)
If you are a fan of a runny egg through and through, then this is the egg for you. The white was just opaque and set, but didn't hold any real shape to speak of, and could be spread around easily with the yolk.
Food Lab Sous Vide Soft-Boiled Egg (Boiled for 3 minutes and then cooked 61.7℃ 00h45m) recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Being that they were only cooked a couple of degrees apart, it makes sense that this egg was pretty comparable to the one above. The main difference is that this egg was boiled for three minutes and then shocked with ice water, in an effort to help it hold its shape and make it more peelable. This is a good theory, but I tried it with a few eggs and they just didn't peel well.
It did hold its shape a bit better, and the white was a bit firmer, as you can see in the below photo (pre-boiled and shocked egg on the left, simply sous vided on the right):
All three were good, soft-cooked eggs, but I think the first was my personal favourite; the texture was less runny and a little more consistent throughout the whole egg. Again, this is a matter of personal preference. That said, I'm still not sure I'll be routinely cooking my eggs this way, as I can make a soft-cooked egg I'm happy with with some boiling water. The results aren't as reproducible as they are with sous vide, but it's so much faster, and I need things to be fast in the morning. In short: while these eggs were good, they weren't life changing, and I'm not going to change my morning routine to allow an extra 45 minutes to accommodate them.
Recipe Rating (for all three:) Not worth the eggs-tra effort.
Not Worth Your (Egg) Time(r)
Then there are the recipes that are just plain silly. Given the fact that the below recipes take an hour each to cook (not including water heating time) you would think that the results would be something really special. This isn't the case, and I recommend skipping 'em.
Sous Vide Yolk (62 ℃, 01h00m) by Christina Wylie (Anova app)
The very first recipe I tried was a sous vide egg yolk. According to the description the yolk becomes "thicker after being cooked sous vide at 62℃ for an hour," making it "ideal for smearing crispy bacon strips and crisp breads into." The best part of the egg is the yolk, so this sounded pretty promising. The pic looked good too.
Unfortunately, the reality was much less delicious. I got the egg into the bag ok, and it actually made it through the cooking process, but the moment I opened the bag, yolk went everywhere. Unlike the recipe had promised, it hadn't firmed up at all. After an hour of waiting, this was a pretty big let down.
Recipe Rating: Egg-scrutiating disappointment
Sous Vide "Hard-boiled" Eggs (76.7℃ 01h00m) by Emily Farris and Jeff Akin (Anova app)
Let's be honest: a hard-boiled egg doesn't require the finesse or exact timing of a soft-boiled one. It's a pretty simple process: boil some water, place the eggs in boiling water, wait about ten minutes, put in ice water. Not only does this method give me good results, taste-wise, they're usually pretty easy to peel. Basically, using a sous vide to hard cook an egg feels a little bit like using a crane to crush a fly, and the cooking time alone (not including the time it takes the water to come to temperature) is an hour.
But, just in case I was missing out on a mind-blowing hard-boiled egg, I tried it anyway. As you can see from the pic above, it didn't peel well, but it was definitely "hard-boiled."
It tasted (you guessed it) like a hard-boiled egg. The white was maybe a little softer, and just a touch less rubbery than a "normal" hard cooked egg, and the yolk wasn't overcooked, but I wouldn't say it was that much better than a traditionally boiled egg, and it took four times as long.
Recipe Rating: Why egg-actly would one need to do this?
Choose Your Own Egg Venture
Say you're very particular about your eggs, and have exact texture specifications that must be met. Maybe soft-cooked is too runny, and you like a fudgier yolk. You could increase your cooking time, as Kenji explains here, or you could try this nifty calculator from ChefSteps. To use the calculator, you pick the white and yolk that appeals to you, visually. I went with this:
The calculator then spits out a cooking time and temperature (mine was 70℃ for 22 minutes) and sends you on your merry way.
I cooked my egg according to their specifications and, though the white didn't hold its shape like the one in the picture, it was plenty firm, and the texture of the yolk was spot on.
There are, of course some limitations. While the calculator will give you a cooking time for an egg with a completely runny white and a super firm yolk, it will be a ridiculous cooking time (07h39m). (It would also result in a really gross egg.)
Are Sous Vide Eggs All They're Cracked Up to Be?
There are two types of eggs I will be preparing with my Anova again, and those are poached and scrambled (with cream and butter to be honest). The poached eggs were so perfect, I'll never need to go out for eggs Benedict again (though I will because bottomless mimosas), and the scrambled eggs were so velvety and delicious that I'm tempted to throw away my pan (I won't though, I need it for other stuff).
But if I just want a quick, soft-boiled egg, I won't be dragging out my sous vide machine and its accompanying water tub, and I definitely won't be using it for hard-boiled eggs; a hard-boiled egg can only be so good, and they're just not vastly improved by an hour-long constant temperature water bath. (Another thing you should know is that if you have your sous vide running pretty much constantly for three days in a smallish kitchen, the windows and outward-facing walls will drip with condensation, so, uh, be aware of the humidifying effect.)
That's all, yolks.