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09/07/2009

The Happy Boiled Egg

This piece also appeared in The Guardian's Word of Mouth food blog.


When civilisation has disintegrated entirely, and the fruitful fields of England, the African savannah, the great plains of the United States and the undulating steppes of Eurasia are all laid waste by flame and war – the remnant of humanity will stand up, dust itself down and ask the question: Where did it all go wrong?

And I could answer. Pinpoint the moment we'd gone too far. The beginning of the end, the first unwavering step towards annihilation.

It was the Happy Boiled Egg.

Yes. Some company has hard-boiled an egg, flayed its shell and stuck it in plastic. Does anything else so epitomise the indolent sloth, the splattered-shirted, fat-arsed torpor of modern living? The manufacturer claims this abomination is designed for people who 'don't have the time or knack to prepare a boiled egg'.

Who are these hard-pressed halfwits? There's no 'knack' to boiling an egg: you only need a watch. And it takes less time (and is usually easier) than having a shower, getting dressed or copulation, and you wouldn't believe someone who told you they didn't have the 'time or knack' to do those.

Eggs are the ur-ingredient. Cooking isn't cooking without them. To a chef, nothing is more vital (a word, like eggs themselves, that embraces life). A puffed and bubbled soufflé, sunset strips of fresh fettucine, the crisp fudge of a meringue - eggs hold the magic molecules of gastronomy. If we shut the kitchen door on the humble boiled egg, we lose one of cookery's most critical rites of passage.

Some years ago, Delia Smith posed for the cover of the Complete Cookery Course clutching a single egg and gazing - with a hint of naughtiness, if we're honest - down the Vaselined lens. Her point is as clear today as it was then: you can't make a cook without breaking eggs. If we're to do anything about obesity in this country, and save our streets from seas of wobbling, nyloned buttocks, we must coax people into the kitchen. Cooking can be a fulfilling joy, but the Happy Boiled Egg would mire us in culinary poverty. It would keep us down. It is a Bourbon of a product.

In the spirit of doughty adventure, I readied myself to try one of these things. But they're not in the shops yet, and neither the company responsible nor their PR agents (and what a gig they got) could or would send any out to me, despite a couple of days of waiting – which hardly suggests a surfeit of confidence. Still, even if – by some miracle – the Happy Boiled Egg had turned out to be in any way edible, it remains a weepingly ridiculous, hysterically contemptible idea.

Today, I hatch the Boil Your Own movement. Join me. Stand up for patience, decency, craft and civilisation. Fight for the yolk of yore, the albumen of Albion. Boil an egg, put it in your child's lunchbox, or in a salad, or go to work on it. Because if you don't act now, my friends, the consequences will be serious. Sure as eggs is eggs.

11 comments:

  1. Can I be the first to say WELL DONE? Richly deserved.

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  2. As ever, a wonderfully witty piece.

    It's interesting that you mention Delia. I can just see her using such a thing in one of her "cheat" recipes. Oh, how the mighty fall.

    Pre-boiled quail's eggs are fairly common and I'd say they are marginally more justifiable. I once boiled and peeled a dozen of the little buggers for a dinner party. Painstaking but worth it.

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  3. Entertaining Article - well done Oliver. And congratulations on raising your profile writing a piece for The Guardian no less. Nice work.

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  4. Fair enough but I've been seeing pre-sliced, packed fruit in my local supermarket for a while. And I still can't figure out who would buy them.

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  5. excellent article - you write like an absolute dream

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  6. Thomas - Thanks so much. Hugely kind of you to say.

    Mr Teaspoon - Great to see you back, and thank you for your kind comment.

    What happened to Delia in that last series is a great shame. Like you, I think, I met the publication of her 'Cheat' book with a kind of slack-jawed horror. Her books taught me how to do huge numbers of things for the first time, including (now I think of it) boiled eggs. The tinned mince and frozen mashed potato were a very sorry business.

    Quails' eggs are, as you say, a fiddle, but they're fun and they look lovely and dinky.

    Dan - Thank you! I'm thrilled they thought it was any good.

    Nath - Couldn't agree more. Pre-sliced apples? Gimme a break.

    Gastrogeek - You're very kind - and it means a lot to me coming from you. Hope to bump into you at another event soon.

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  7. And what did they charge for the pleasure? You probably could have bought a dozen or so, right?

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  8. Krista - I think they're a little under 50p each. Seems a ridiculous amount for an egg!

    Mr Teaspoon - Re. peeling, someone sent me this video. Next time you have a dinner party, it may be a useful tip!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN2gYHJNT3Y

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  9. Cheers!

    I can envisage a few accidents but that looks well worth a try.

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  10. Oh my goodness, what an abomination! Good article.

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  11. Ready boiled egg, sounds like a good healthy lunch option, can't be bothered to boil an egg for lunch at breakfast, am too busy chucking a pre-made pain au chocolat in the oven- presumably you make your own...

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