With the shell or through your hands: what is the best way to separate an egg?
Nothing incites debate like the simplest of cooking tasks. Here we take a look at a couple of tried-and-tested methods for separating egg yolks and whites.
First things first
Eggs will separate best if fresh and preferably cold. The protective membrane that encloses the yolk weakens with age and breaks more easily, which can cause problems because if even one speck of fat (i.e. the yolk) gets into the white, you won’t be able to whisk peaks.
Using the shell
Most cooks agree that the best method is to use the shell itself.
- First, crack the egg on a flat surface. This means there's less likelihood of the shell shards breaking inwards into the egg.
- Before you start to prise it open, hold the egg over a bowl and have another bowl ready beside it.
- Now, using both hands, break it into two halves, one in each hand.
- Slip the yolk back and forth from one half-shell to the other, tilting it as you do so and letting the white trickle down into the bowl while you hang on to the yolk.
- When there is no white left in the shells, pop the yolk into the other bowl.
Using your hands
You can separate an egg by cracking it into your hands and letting the egg white dribble into a bowl underneath, but this method comes with downsides. Any speck of grease on your fingers (and if you’re cooking, there’s bound to be some) will infect the egg, making it difficult to whisk into peaks.
Some more unusual ideas
You could try breaking the egg onto a plate, trapping the yolk under a glass. Carefully drain off the whites, lifting the glass slightly as you do so.
Or use a needle to pierce the egg, letting the whites run out and leaving the yolk inside.
If you can be bothered with buying fancy equipment, break the egg into a funnel, capturing the yolk at the top.
Whisking your whites
A few key tips:
- There shouldn’t be any trace of grease on your whisks, or in the bowl, when whisking egg whites (run a slice of lemon around them both to get rid of any traces)
- Use a very large bowl to ensure that as much air as possible can circulate around the egg whites as you whisk
- Stop whisking when the egg white stands up in well-defined peaks.
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