Making Them is a Lot Less Scary Than You Think
How often do you poach eggs? Rarely? Never?
Join the club. Most people think poaching is difficult and fussy, so they never prepare eggs this way at home. Too bad, because poaching might be the one of the healthiest ways to cook eggs (no added fat). And poaching is even simpler than hard-boiling — no hot eggs to cool off and peel. How about flavor? Glad you asked! Because poaching may be the best way to showcase an egg’s natural tastiness.
Poached eggs are great breakfast fare. They’re also wonderful as a garnish on salad (and a necessity for the classic Salade Frisée). And if poached eggs didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them just so we could make Eggs Benedict.
By learning just a few simple steps, you can become a poach meister.
Then the next time you’re preparing eggs for brunch, be sure to ask how people want them cooked. Some wiseacre (you know the one) will say he wants his poached. You can just smile and say, “Of course.” It’ll probably ruin his day.
Recipe: Poached Eggs
Poached eggs are simple (really!) to make: Bring some water to a simmer. Crack an egg and slip it into the water. Simmer for a few minutes. Voilà, poached egg.
But, of course, there’s always a catch. With poached eggs, it’s this: Once you slide that egg into the water, the white can billow out into an unsightly, stringy mess, leaving the yolk almost naked. Eeek!
You’ll virtually never have this problem if your egg is very fresh (the white will cling to the yolk naturally). But really fresh eggs can sometimes be hard to find.
You can also achieve perfectly shaped poached eggs if you buy some of those forms that are made especially for egg poaching. The metal ones work well, and the silicone ones are excellent. Any kitchen supply store carries them. If looks are important to you, this is the safest way.
But you should be able to achieve a perfectly presentable poached egg even without a form, as we explain in this recipe.
This dish takes 4 minutes cooking time, plus several minutes to bring water to a simmer — say 10 minutes total, tops. You can prepare as many eggs as you like at a time, but I suggest trying no more than 4 at first (that number is pretty easy for most people to manage). You can also prepare poached eggs ahead of time and then rewarm right before serving — see Step 7 of the Procedure.
- 1 to 4 eggs straight from the refrigerator (room-temperature eggs take about a minute less to cook; see Notes for why you might want to use pasteurized eggs)
- ~2½ tablespoons white vinegar per quart of poaching liquid (optional; I generally don’t do this, but see Notes)
- Fill a skillet or saucepan with about 2 inches of water. It’s easiest if you use a low, wide cooking vessel (i.e., a skillet; if you have a nonstick one, use that).
- Add vinegar if using (this helps the egg white coagulate — the eggs won’t taste like vinegar). Bring water to the barest simmer.
- While the water is coming to a simmer, break each egg into an individual small container, such as a ramekin.
- When the water is just about at a simmer (with tiny bubbles just rising to the surface), begin poaching the eggs. Pick up the first ramekin, dip half of it in the water, and slide the egg into the water. If the white strings out, use a heatproof spoon or spatula to (carefully) push the white over the egg yolk for a couple of seconds or so. Repeat with the other eggs.
- Simmer for 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked eggs one at a time. If you want to serve the eggs right away, drain them briefly on a towel (at this point, the whites will be set and the yolk will still be a bit runny, but the eggs aren’t as delicate as you might think — you can handle them carefully without worrying about the yolk breaking). If there are any trailing pieces of egg white, you can cut trim them with kitchen scissors, if you wish. BTW, if you’re worried about any faint taste of vinegar clinging to the eggs, you can dunk each one in a bowl of warm water before draining it.
- Serve; or, if you want to prepare the eggs ahead of time, follow Step 7.
- If you want to prepare the eggs ahead, simmer for 4 minutes as in Step 5. Then use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs one at a time. Place the cooked eggs in a bowl of ice water to cool. If you’re planning to use them within the next hour or so, you can just leave them out on the kitchen counter. If it’s going to be longer than that, store the cooked eggs in the refrigerator (in the bowl uncovered — they’ll keep for 2 or 3 days). When ready to use, trim any trailing egg whites if you wish. Dunk the eggs in barely simmering water for a minute to warm them, then serve.
- As noted in Step 1 of the Procedure, it’s preferable to use a skillet or other wide cooking vessel — because a wider vessel makes it easier to get the eggs into and out of the water.
- Nonstick cookware is best for poaching because eggs occasionally stick. If they do, no big deal. If they’re a bit reluctant to come loose when using a slotted spoon, simply slide a spatula under them. This rarely happens, but in case it does, you know what to do.
- If you’re using metal or silicone forms for poaching eggs, follow the instructions that came with them. Typically, the metal ones go right into the cooking water (then you slide the eggs into the forms). The silicone ones usually float in the water (then you slide the eggs into them).
- Adding vinegar to the cooking water really does help the egg white hold together. If I think my eggs are on the older side, I use this method; otherwise I just skip it. With that said, though, you really do want to use eggs that are as fresh as possible — they’ll look much better no matter what poaching method you use. Try to find eggs that are no more than a day or two old if you want the best looking poached eggs.
- Some people like to “swirl” the cooking water with a spoon or a whisk, creating a vortex. When they add the egg, the vortex action is supposed to keep the egg white intact. I’ve tried this and it does seem promising — but no more so than the vinegar trick (my sample size is limited, however).
- Refrigerated eggs may be fully cooked in under 4 minutes — say 3½ (“cooked” being defined as an egg with the white set and the yolk still runny). But at 4 minutes you’ll still have plenty of runny yolk, and the egg will stand up to handling, so that’s the amount of time I always use.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So you may want to use pasteurized eggs if this concerns you. The issue is particularly important in the case of poached eggs since the yolks won’t be fully cooked, and may not reach the heat level necessary to kill salmonella.
- You can identify pasteurized eggs because they have usually a red “P” stamped on them.
- Some people like to add salt to the poaching water to help flavor the eggs. I usually just season them at table.
- Speaking of seasoning, most people like their poached eggs with salt and freshly ground black pepper. So serve your eggs with these seasonings, and whatever else you prefer.
- A poached egg on toast makes a great breakfast. Poached eggs also pair well with other breakfast favorites —bacon, sausage, potatoes, or whatever sounds good to you.
Perfect for Brunch — or Dinner
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs took a bite of poached egg and smiled. “Love the runny yolk!” she said.
We were eating “breakfast” for dinner — something we like to do, as discussed last year in our post on Fried Eggs.
“These really are good,” I agreed. “They’re actually easier to make than fried or scrambled eggs, though people think they’re more difficult.
“They’re great with bacon and potatoes. And I love them on toast,” said Mrs K R. “Maybe we should try them on homemade Baking Powder Biscuits. That’d be a great combo.”
“Or on English muffins,” I suggested. “You know, as in . . . “
“Eggs Benedict?” she said, completing my sentence. “We haven’t had that dish in years! You’ve been holding out on me!”
“Next Sunday is Easter,” I said. “Great day for a big brunch. Maybe we should make Eggs Benedict then? It’s one of the best ways to serve poached eggs.”
“Yes!” said Mrs K R enthusiastically. “That means you’ll have to make them twice! Because surely you’ll want to post about Eggs Benedict on the blog this week, right? So we’ll have that batch. And then again on Easter morning.”
That’s Mrs K R — always thinking strategically.
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Baking Powder Biscuits
Easy Homemade Butter
Corned Beef Hash
No Knead Bread
Irish Soda Bread