25 Aug

Competition entry: Boiled Egg for Breakfast by Frederick Forsyth, by Chris Taylor

He replaced the spoon on the plate. Most people think that spoons should be made of silver, but they are wrong. Silver is a relatively soft metal, expensive, and tarnishes in the presence of atmospheric sulphides. Jacobs’ spoon was stainless steel: cheaper, harder and infinitely more versatile. It had already been used on the egg that stood before him, supported by its specially designed ceramic container. The steel edge of the spoon had fractured the shell exposing the layers below.

Just below the outer case of an egg is a layer of albumen. This is normally a transparent liquid but, when subjected to temperatures in excess of 60C, its protein is denatured and it becomes a white, plastic solid. This egg had been immersed in water at 100C for more than 3.5 minutes. An area of albumen had been lifted clear, using the same stainless steel implement, to reveal a yellow layer beneath. This inner layer, insulated by the albumen, still retained its fluidity, though this was not apparent to the casual observer, being masked by an invisible membrane.

Bread, particularly the white sliced variety, has little mechanical strength, especially if the outer edge has been removed. Jacobs knew though, that when bread is subjected to high temperatures for the right length of time, the processes of dehydration and partial carbonisation produce a hard, textured surface. He had several such pieces of bread before him now, each one precisely cut to be just narrower than the removed area of albumen.

He selected one, and applied a thin layer of congealed milk solid, known as butter. He took care over this, working quickly so that the surface of the bread did not soften. There are those who frown on the use of butter, believing that its long term use can damage the cardiovascular system. Jacobs had no time for such concerns. His life held danger enough without worrying about minuscule risks.

He paused only to sprinkle a few milligrams of crystalline sodium chloride on to the target area before plunging his bread into the central part of the egg. The flimsy membrane was no match for the thermally hardened bread and there was barely any resistance. After precisely 2 seconds, Jacobs extracted the bread, its newly acquired yellow coating blending with the melted butter. Perfect.

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