The quintessential poached egg has a firmly set white that surrounds a barely cooked yolk. Use a fork to gently pierce the surface of the neat round package, and the yellow will ooze all over your plate, ready to be sopped up with the edge of your toast, English muffin, or bagel. It’s a nice alternative to scrambling or frying your eggs, even if you use Jacques Pepin’s nifty technique that I wrote about a few weeks ago.
But how do you get the poached egg to keep its shape and come out perfectly? The egg’s journey from the safe harbor of its shell to a simmering pot of water to your plate is a treacherous one. Some chefs think that adding vinegar to the water can help the egg stay intact. Others advise wrapping it in plastic, or using a sous vide cooking method that poaches it more gently.
I’m certainly no eggs-pert, but as usual I turned to Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab to get his advice. Lopez-Alt says that an ingenious trick for getting the poached egg to hold its shape is to crack it into a dish and then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer. That will cause the egg whites that aren’t held tightly to the yolk to drain away. When you’re ready to start cooking, simply immerse the strainer in the pot and slide your egg out into the water.
Lopez-Alt offers these additional tips for improving your poached egg technique:
- Use eggs that are as fresh as possible. He says that the freshest eggs have the strongest membranes that hold the white together, so an older egg is more likely to spread when it hits the water.
- Turn your burner off once your water comes to a boil. The more agitated your water is, the more likely it is that your egg will fall apart. It will only take about 4 minutes for eggs to poach in simmering water.
- Swirl your eggs gently once they start cooking, which will help them poach more evenly and keep a more rounded shape.
- Don’t bother adding vinegar to the water. Although this might help your eggs set a little bit faster, it’s more likely to make them come out tough.
- Do add salt to your water. This won’t affect the cooking process, but a little seasoning will make your eggs taste better.
- If you’re making breakfast for a crowd, feel free to poach eggs in advance, cooking them a few at a time. Store them in cold water on your counter for a few hours, or in the refrigerator overnight. Then you can simply reheat them in hot water for a few minutes before serving. Just be sure to transfer the eggs carefully when you’re moving them from one dish to another.
Try out these tips and see if they help improve your poaching technique. But to get perfect results every time, I’m sorry (not sorry) to say that will only come with … eggs-perience.
And what if you need an accompaniment to go with your poached eggs? Someday I’ll have to write about the sauce I learned to make during a long weekend in the Netherlands. I really enjoyed my Holland days.
What I Ate: Poached eggs on a bagel with Yotam Ottolenghi’s shatta chili sauce