The Truth About Eggs

Tapenade is a simple Provençal mix of anchovies and olives and capers and garlic. There are few things with more guts and flavour. It’s also black as sin, making for a great colour foil for the white of a boiled egg. Looks great as part of a picnic spread.

This is a dish for those who love eggs, and love anchovies, and love popping finger food simply into the gob. If you’ve a load of tapenade in the fridge, most of the work comes from boiling the egg to the just-firm stage. The assumption here is that you’re keen to make an impression. This is hardly the sort of dish you’d make for a daggy dinner.

The trick with eggs is to cook them just enough so that the white is firm, and the yolk has been cooked so that the middle is just cooked, not a second longer. On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee’s (Scribner’s) unbelievably comprehensive book on all things to do with the chemistry and history of food and cooking, includes the most detailed explanations about eggs, including boiling. The points that are worth noting include the following.

  • Boiled fresh eggs are tougher to peel than eggs that have a bit of age on them.
  • The gentler the cooking, the softer will be the white of the egg.
  • It’s better to cook eggs that have been out of the fridge because there is a greater chance of cracking when cooking a cold egg and the extra coldness affects the timing.
  • Whichever method you use to boil an egg to your preferred consistency, do it the same every time. Remember the larger the egg, the longer it will take to cook. My perfect boiled egg is tossed in room temperature water, gradually brought to a simmer, cooked for 4 minutes, peeled immediately, and served squashed, on hot, buttered toast. The yolk will have just set, but will be slightly runny.
  • The longer the cooking time, the more likely the yolk will be surrounded by a green-grey corona. According to McGee, this is the result of a chemical reaction between iron in the yolk and sulphur in the white. Shorter cooking reduces this effect, and immediate dunking in cold water will also assist.
  • Boiled eggs will continue cooking in their shell, unless that process is stopped by dunking in cold water. Even then, the process will continue for a short time, but not enough to affect significantly the end result.
  • Time-Life’s timeless series ‘The Good Cook’, edited by Richard Olney, has been published continuously since the early 1980s. It remains an icon for all serious cooks. Eggs & Cheese deals widely with the process of egg cooking.
    Tapenade is one of those rare combos that works for people who don’t particularly like its individual components. Perhaps it’s that naughty black colour.

30 black olives, seeded

8 anchovies

¼ cup capers, drained

1 chilli, chopped roughly

1 small clove garlic, chopped roughly

handful of fresh herbs

¼ cup virgin olive oil

eggs (as many as you like)


Mix all the ingredients, except the eggs, in the whizzer and blend until the mixture forms a thick paste. Leave in the refrigerator overnight.


Cook your eggs for 8 minutes (10 minutes if you’re nervous), plunge them into cold water, and peel immediately. Allow to cool.


Cut the eggs in half, remove the yolks and mash them. For each half egg add 1 teaspoon of tapenade, mixing through the mashed, cooked yolk. Spoon the mix back into the egg whites.

NOTE There are dozens of ways to use tapenade. Just be rather sparing in its use. It is extremely powerful in flavour. A wipe is better than a whack. It works as something wiped over toast, crackers, worked through vegetables and, perhaps surprisingly, lightly wiped over crisply fried fish.
Tapenade keeps for ages, but there is really little point in making large quantities. If you have all the ingredients on hand, you can make it in a whizz.

WINE: If you’re going on a picnic with boiled eggs and tapenade in your basket, you should also pop in a chilled bottle of good riesling.