Some cooking terms have an innately old-fashioned feel to them, such as "coddling" an egg. The term is more often used in non-culinary ways, to describe the kind of protective care you'd provide to an orphaned puppy or an unwell child. It might seem odd to use the same term for egg cookery, but it's less strange than you might think. Coddling is a very gentle, low-heat cooking method, which explains both its connection to care giving and the eggs' fine, distinctive texture.
In a Coddler
Egg coddlers are a quintessentially old-school piece of cookware, uncommon in the modern era but still available through online and specialty retailers. They're typically pottery or ceramic, about the size of a sugar bowl, and usually have lids with large, easy-to-grasp handles. To coddle eggs in a coddler, first bring a saucepan of water to just below a boil. Butter the inside of the coddler and spoon a bit of heavy cream into the bottom. Crack in 1 or 2 eggs; then close the lid and lower the coddler into a saucepan of water. Simmer the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolk is still runny.
Coddled in Ramekins
If you aren't interested in buying coddlers or don't have room in your kitchen for any more single-purpose cookware, you can coddle eggs in ramekins instead. Butter the ramekins, crack one or two eggs into each, and place them into a waiting saucepan or skillet of simmering water. Cover the pan tightly with its lid, and simmer the eggs for 6 to 8 minutes or until the yolks are as cooked as you'd like. It's easy to monitor the eggs' doneness if you choose a pot or pan with a glass lid. If you're not certain, jiggle a ramekin. If the whites are set but the yolk is still jiggly, it's perfect. Alternatively, you can coddle the eggs in their ramekins in a cake pan filled with water, under a foil lid, for 15 to 20 minutes in the oven.
Coddled in the Shell
Although "coddled" eggs are usually fully cooked and ready to eat, the term is also used for a rather different technique. Used for Caesar salad dressing, homemade mayonnaise and other preparations, a coddled egg in this sense is par-cooked to kill bacteria. Unlike a soft-boiled egg, which is cooked in its shell until the whites are fully set, coddling the egg seeks to simply raise its temperature. Start by warming your egg to room temperature. Next, lower the egg gently into a pot of boiling water and time it for 1 full minute. Remove the egg from the pot and hold it under cold running water to stop the cooking process. You can then crack and separate the egg and use it as you normally would. You can achieve a similar effect by cracking the egg into a glass bowl and microwaving it for 15 to 20 seconds.
Tips and Pointers
Coddled eggs have a pleasantly characteristically soft texture. They can be used in place of poached eggs in any recipe, or simply enjoyed on their own with toast. The cooking method lends itself to add-ins, as well. Tuck pre-cooked bacon or thinly shaved ham under the eggs before they're cooked, or sprinkle the tops with chopped chives, shredded cheese or other garnishes. Although breakfast-lovers appreciate the delicately runny yolks of coddled eggs, it's important to note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers any soft-cooked egg to be potentially hazardous. Officially, the USDA suggests that the elderly, young or immune-compromised should avoid soft-cooked eggs. Similarly, the agency suggests homemade mayonnaise or Caesar dressing should only be made with eggs that have been commercially pasteurized.