I like poached eggs. They’re easy and one of the fastest ways to cook an egg – faster even than frying, I think. Plus they’re flavourful and can be eaten with just about anything (or on their own, with a bit of salt and pepper) and, unlike some other forms of cooked eggs, still taste good even once they’ve gone cold. As Julia Child once said, “Poached eggs…are to my mind, the purest and loveliest of ways to cook eggs.” And loveliest of ways to eat eggs, too, might I add.
There are many ways to poach eggs – there is really no right way, as everyone has their own preferences and opinions about what constitutes a properly poached egg. Some find the prospect of cracking an egg into a pot of boiling water daunting if they haven’t before or they’re beset by past, negative experiences. I’ve used the plastic wrap trick before, but it was sometimes messy and nowadays I prefer putting the egg directly in the water. I don’t have poaching cups or rings. Using plastic wrap is really more about shape, it doesn’t make poaching eggs any easier or harder, in my experience. Once you’ve mastered the basic technique of poaching eggs, it’s beautiful to observe: for a moment, the eggs look ethereal floating in the water.
Make sure the eggs you use are fresh, reasonably so. Most sources I’ve come across say that eggs shouldn’t be more than four days old, though that could be tricky to judge when you’re buying eggs from a grocery store or supermarket, so the best guideline is not use eggs with a sell-by life of four to five weeks. As eggs age, the albumen or whites become watery, for lack of a better word, which makes it separate from the yolk and falls apart when poached. With fresh eggs, the white will stay close to the yolk and not spread thinly. You can see this difference when you crack a fresh egg, observing that the white surrounding the yolk is thicker than the outer white.
So without further ado, this is how I poach eggs.
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil – I’m not strict about how much water, but guidelines generally state it should be a couple to a few inches. The size of the pot, and how much water, you use depends on how many poached eggs at a time you’re making.
2. Crack an egg into a bowl. For beginners or those who have not poached eggs before, this is easier than cracking the egg directly into the water, which requires a particular deftness. (Cracking the egg in a bowl also makes it easier for me to take pictures for this post than if I had to crack an egg into the water while holding the camera in my other hand. Imagine the catastrophe.)
3. Once the water has reached a boil, lower the heat so that it’s barely bubbling, just before a simmer, or below boiling point. For those technically minded, the water should be about 160 to 180°F (71 to 82°C). Gently slide the egg into the water (do not drop it in), getting the bowl as close to the water as you safely can. Set a timer for 3 to 4 minutes.
(I’ve also done the whirlpool trick before and slipped the egg into the vortex to get a perfectly oval-shaped poached egg – the whirlpool helps wrap the white around the yolk – though I’m not that fussed about shape.)
4. Remove the poached egg with a slotted spoon and cool on a folded paper towel or napkin to drain. The white should be just set, with the yolk still soft. Test this by gently pressing against the yolk with your finger.
(What’s also nice about poached eggs is that even once the egg’s cold, the yolk remains soft unlike runny yolks with eggs done sunny-side up.)
5. Serve the egg as you like. I’ve had a lovely, elegant little lunch of a poached egg with salt and pepper with steamed asparagus and quinoa.
And, of course, a poached egg on toast is always classy.