Table for One

The 6-Minute Breakfast That Gets Me Through the Day, Every Day

Why soft-boiled eggs are perfect for one.

March 15, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.

Martha Stewart drinks celery juice. Khloé Kardashian eats oatmeal with a protein shake. I...have a 6-minute egg with toast, orange juice, and coffee.

When it comes to breakfast, we all have our go-tos. It is, for me, the one meal of the day when I feel zero remorse whatsoever for repeating myself, rarely straying to other sources of protein, carbohydrate, or fructose. Because when something works, it works.

On the weekends, maybe, I'll cook bacon or have a brekkie quesadilla from leftovers. But even in those moments, I'll always have my egg first, boiled straight from the fridge in a tiny pot of water for six minutes, then propped up in its cup on a small plate dusted with Magic Spice™, my signature concoction of secrets and herbs: brown sugar, salt, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and celery seed.

Here's how to make a perfect soft-boiled egg:

  1. First, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. (I use this stainless-steel butter warmer. Because it's so small, it comes to a boil almost as fast as my electric water kettle, which I use for coffee.)
  2. Then, with a spoon, carefully lower in one large organic egg. (I eat so many eggs a week, so they're the one thing I buy organic.)
  3. Put the timer on for 6 minutes exactly, lowering the heat to about medium-low so the water simmers gently. (Mostly I do this so the egg won't crack.)
  4. At the 6-minute mark, run the egg under cold tap water to halt the cooking process before placing it into its little cup. (If you don't have an egg cup, then get one immediately because they're totally cute! a shot glass works, too.)

The eating of this egg is mostly ritualistic: I take a sharp knife and chop off its top, scooping up the bit of white that's there. I sprinkle the spice mixture over the beheaded egg and dive my spoon into the yolk, which, if I've cooked it correctly, gushes out. Every time I do it, I feel a great sense of satisfaction at how dramatically the yellow dribbles out over the sides and onto my plate. I use the toast to sop up this spillage, and dig my spoon into and around the shell to get the rest of the white.

Photo by Sony Pictures Classic

Even when I think I want a second egg, I'm reminded of that first breakfast scene in 2018's Call Me by Your Name, where Armie Hammer's character eats a soft-boiled egg with such luscious fervor, he makes it look like the most delicious thing in the world. When his host family offers him another, he refuses. "No, no, no. I know myself too well," Oliver chuckles, pouring himself a glass of apricot juice. "If I have a second, I'm just gonna have a third and then a fourth, and then you're just gonna have to roll me out of here."

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I still love soft-boiled eggs, eaten in a blue and white egg cup with toast soldiers at breakfast or on a piece of buttered toast for lunch. Mine are “steamed” in one inch of boiling water for 6 minutes 30 seconds.”
— Victoria C.

In André Aciman's novel, from which the Academy Award–winning film is based, the protagonist Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet) narrates, "I had never heard someone his age say, I know myself. It intimidated me."

I wouldn't go so far as to say that my single egg makes me feel especially surer of myself. But that scene, both in the book and in the film, showcases how satisfying it can be to eat just one perfectly soft-boiled egg. Whether you're having it on its own or with Magic Spice, toast, and orange juice, it only takes an egg to start the day feeling in control and filled with purpose.

I'm not a breakfast person, but what this micro-meal has taught me is that, if I can make a habit out of putting on the coffee first thing in the morning, along with the water, toasting a slice of good sourdough from my local bakery, and boiling a single egg—then it forces me to pause, if only for one brief moment, while I sit to eat. What better time to have that feeling of calm than at the start of my day?

This, in turn, makes me appreciate the morning more (which is helpful for someone who is 100-percent not a morning person). What this means, as well, is that I can go to work feeling less harried than those dark days when I used to stumble out of bed and crash into the office like a storm. Instead, I walk. I feel cool, calm, and collected by the time I make it to my desk, mind and body ready to go until lunch.

Is it celery juice blended with Kardashian-branded protein powder? No—but I’d say it’s just as fortifying.

Check back next Friday for the ultimate solitary lunch. In the meantime, how long do you boil your eggs? Tell, tell in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Betsy Caraco
    Betsy Caraco
  • Diane
  • Virginia
  • Juanita Carr
    Juanita Carr
  • Claudia T
    Claudia T
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


Betsy C. May 23, 2023
I was given an egg cooker, steamer, by someone who was sure she wasn't going to like it.... (had never even been opened ! ) I was sure I wouldn't either but gave it a go. It will cook up to 7 eggs, evenly spaced, at a go. It has a little cup marked soft, medium and hard to measure the water, with a sharp pointy end to pierce the end of the egg. Soft boiled takes about 5 minutes to steam (doesn't matter how many eggs you cook but rather how long they are exposed to the steam, thus the measuring cup)....... OMG !!!!! best soft boiled eggs ever. Transfer to a cup of cold water, into the egg cup, top off and done. I toast my bread first and cut into strips because I don't want the egg to overcook, waterbath or not, while I wait for my toast. So easy that after one lesson my husband can make his own perfect eggs. I have also used for hard boiled eggs, into an ice bath rather than just cold water......perfectly creamy yolks with no discolored rings.

Check Amazon for contraptions to cut the top off soft boiled eggs.....the one I got has an inverted metal cup that sits on the top of the egg and you drop a weighted ball to crack around the top. I find you need to insert a thin paring knife in the crack to lift off the top so you don't get a bunch of shattered bit when you dip your toast. I will be very sad when this cheap plastic, China produced appliance bites the dust.....
Diane January 20, 2022
this makes me nostalgic for the little egg cups my mom always had. I still love a soft boiled egg and eat it nearly the same way -- but instead of your magic spice, I sprinkle sea salt and a little 'bean' of butter just like my mom used to make.
Virginia June 8, 2019
Not sure I would want to add the brown sugar. I just use a bit of salt and dip my toast strips in the egg. Will try this cooking method.
Juanita C. April 29, 2019
Sorry so late, just caught on.
I always had trouble cracking the top off WITHOUT spilling the youlk. I'm so single (and old) I only use paper plates for any sticky food, lol.
Claudia T. April 24, 2019
I clicked the link to Armie Hammer's Instagram and just a handful of photos down, he posted himself having breakfast in Italy with TWO soft boiled eggs in cups!
I only own one shot glass, and it holds my Beauty Blender makeup sponge! Haha!
Eric K. April 24, 2019
Ha! Right right, I saw that too. Lies.
Susan T. April 14, 2019
A kindred spirit! I agree with the menu and the feelings. My version, however, is the traditional English "Egg & Soldiers" - the soft-boiled egg in an Cornishware egg cup, and really good bread toasted, buttered, and cut into thin strips for dipping. This is accompanied by a bit of fruit or small glass of juice, and a cup of hot tea. I have this nearly every morning, and love it.
deanna1001 March 24, 2019
I’m totally with you about this being the perfect breakfast but slight variation in egg cookery techinique. I use ½” of water in pot and carefully lower the egg(s) into it at a simmer. Lid and time 6 minutes or a few seconds more...then proceed as you do. The smaller amount of water makes for minimal drop in simmer temp regardless of how many eggs you are preparing (I have three egg cups shaped like cows with dopey faces - don’t ask). They steam rather than boil. And the water comes to temperature so fast. Toasting happens while egg cooks. Totally efficient and delicious. I like to cut toast soldiers and dip them into the egg...
Marit G. March 17, 2019
Love your magic spice on chicken, but notat all on eggs
Eric K. March 18, 2019
Glad you like the chicken!
Ttrockwood March 17, 2019
I always love your articles, and am also a fan of silver moon bakery breads :)) especially the selection of smaller loaves and rolls since i cook for one myself.
Unfortunately eggs and I don’t like each other unless the egg is hidden well (like in a cookie, ie no eggy taste) but for some reason i do own lovely egg cups that i use to hold kosher salt and pepper so they don’t get lonely in the cupboard
Eric K. March 17, 2019
I love this: “so they don’t get lonely in the cupboard.” Glad they found another use.
Maria K. March 17, 2019
I love soft boiled eggs but 6 minutes is too soft for me. I do 7 for large and 8 extra large eggs and they come out perfect.
Eric K. March 17, 2019
Mm, I love a 7- or 8-minute egg now and again too.
Rebecca F. March 17, 2019
Love this one, Eric! Truly the most opulent yet simple breakfast. My favorite part of paris was that oeufs à la coque (complete with the egg cup) were on basically every menu!
Eric K. March 17, 2019
Thanks Rebecca! There is something opulent in the daily ritual.
BJB March 17, 2019
Eric K. March 17, 2019
I've heard that needle trick from many people but have yet to try it myself!
Rosa March 16, 2019
Okay...I’m sold..I’m getting an egg cup!!
Eric K. March 16, 2019
It'll change your life!

(in a very small but pleasurable way)
Shadi H. March 16, 2019
I love eggs for breakfast. Soft boiled egg is definitely a favorite, that runny lovely golden yolk is so precious!
Eric K. March 16, 2019
One of life's simple pleasures.
laura March 16, 2019
Eric, I love reading your series here. The first piece of yours I read was about your solitary trip to my homestate of Maine in winter, and it reminded me of how sparse and beautiful it can be at that time of year. This piece is another one written so poetically and with heart. I just treated myself to a soft-egg breakfast using your technique (but 7 minutes for me, to yield a firmer gelled yolk) and am dreaming of more solitary and nourishing moments like this. Your words inspire and fortify; thank you!
Eric K. March 16, 2019
Laura, thanks so much for reading, and for trying the egg!
CameronM5 March 16, 2019
Hard boiled. They come to a boil in cold water. I turn off the heat and let them sit covered for 11 minutes. If I have the time they go in an ice water bath to make them easier to peel. I eat two with Guldens mustard. It’s weird but it got me through morning sickness and college. Also, I am a breakfast quesadilla freak. 🥚
Eric K. March 16, 2019
Sounds divine.
Victoria C. March 16, 2019
When I was a little girl in the 1950’s, my English mother would take me home every other year to see my grandparents who lived on the eastern side of the Wirral Peninsula. We would sail from New York Harbor to Liverpool on a Cunard White Star liner, the M.V. Britannic. Our dinner was eaten mid-day, and our next meal was tea served, as you might guess, around 4:00 p.m. We ate crumbly, pale orange Cheshire cheese, Hovis whole wheat bread sliced thin by hand and gently buttered, eggs boiled softly after being plucked from under the bottom of a reluctant hen, green onions on their stems, red radishes cut in half through the root end, and cherry tomatoes. Sweets were only presented at the end of tea when there was company, but there was always a sponge cake in the kitchen and usually a plate of hand-formed triangular currant scones. I still love soft-boiled eggs, eaten in a blue and white egg cup with toast soldiers at breakfast or on a piece of buttered toast for lunch. Mine are “steamed” in one inch of boiling water for 6 minutes 30 seconds.
Eric K. March 16, 2019
Victoria, thank you for painting that lovely portrait of your childhood. It made me nostalgic for a time and place I didn't even know.
Whiteantlers March 16, 2019
What a beautiful picture!
Linda May 19, 2019
Your story was so delightful that I had to read it twice, slowly, and linger on each description. Thank you or putting me in the middle of your memories!
Chloe C. March 16, 2019
I love breakfast.
I love eggs.
I scoop my soft-boileds out into a small bowl with butter & salt & pepper & have toast with no jam, just butter, to sop up the eggy-ness. With coffee & OJ.
Lately I have a new work schedule, due in at 4:30 am.
I miss the breakfast minutes so much!
Eric K. March 16, 2019
They’re very precious!
CaffeineSpasms March 16, 2019
What a stunning, beautiful sentiment. Thank you for this.
Eric K. March 16, 2019
Thank you.
Whiteantlers March 15, 2019
I can't eat chicken eggs (allergic to the protein in the white) and was force fed soft boiled eggs in my childhood by a well meaning but ham handed adult caretaker so the idea of one is never appealing. That said, I love (as always) your writing as well as this ritual of caring for yourself with a perfect breakfast that ushers you calmly into the day. We all need something like this. : )
Eric K. March 15, 2019
Fascinated by your early egg trauma. Uh, any more details there?
Whiteantlers March 16, 2019
Ugh. My formative years were in the 50s. My maternal grandparents, who we lived with after my parents divorced, were immigrants-one from Norway, one from Alsace-Loraine. They came from farming and fishing backgrounds. Both of them believed in certain 'healthy' foods for kids-milk, fatty meat, liver, eggs, cod liver oil, sauerkraut. My grandmother started my mornings with orange juice into which she'd put a tablespoon of cod liver oil. Then the soft boiled eggs (3
in a cup, already eviscerated from the shell but with some shell in the egg moosh), very heavily peppered and salted came out. I would immediately start to cry just from smelling them. My grandmother tolerated no nonsense from anyone-kids or adults-so she would tie a large cotton napkin around my neck, pull my head back using my long ponytail as her "handle" and shovel the eggs into my mouth with an old soup spoon. Of course, I'd cry harder and would have my runny nose and tears mixed in with soft boiled egg drool running down my chin. Yet and still, the spoon kept coming until the cup of eggs was empty. This stopped when my mother got her own place, became a working mother and Carnation Instant Breakfast replaced Nana's *cough* nutritional torture breakfasts. To this day, I cannot bear to look at runny egg yolks and yes, I have processed this in therapy.
Eric K. March 16, 2019
Oh my goodness! Well, that's certainly one way to make a kid hate eggs forever. I'm so sorry you had to endure that. Also, eggshell crunch is quite possibly the worst texture...

This is nowhere near the same thing, but reminds me a little of the way my grandmother would PACK the white rice into our bowls to trick us into eating more. We could never finish it because...volume.

By the way, I always enjoy your writing, too, WA. Thank you.
Whiteantlers March 16, 2019
Thanks, Eric. High praise coming from you. : )

My late uncle was a Freudian psychiatrist and he used to tell me that certain kinds of religious upbringing was one of the biggest causes of people eventually coming to The Couch. I disagree. I think it's food! lol