I am tortured by two opposing forces in my life: the fact that I love poached eggs–on anything and everything, from asparagus to slow-roasted slices of tomato, crisped cups of Canadian bacon, black bread, I could keep going… — and the fact that I’m terrible at making them.
And this is why it is so
ridiculous amusing that I am giving you–or at least the eleven of you that said you were afraid of poaching eggs–a poached egg tutorial today. And by “today” I mean two days because it took me two tries to even get one worth photographing (though in my defense, holding the camera in your right hand while lowering an egg into a pot with your left does have a certain inevitability of disaster). [Ed note: These photos were updated in 2022, good riddance.]
Obviously, this makes me some sort of expert, so let’s get started!
How to Poach an Egg
There are about as many methods to poaching eggs as there are eggs on this earth, from plastic wrap (sorry, ew) to poaching cups to cupcake liners seriously, I’ve lost track but I am sure that people will be eager to share their own in the comments. This is simply the one that works for me. When I’m not holding a camera in my other hand.
First, heat a pot with a few inches of water in it. If you have a nonstick pot, I find this can make things easier as you might need to loosen the egg from the bottom in a moment.
Put a splash of vinegar in the water. This helps tighten up the egg. I know there are strong pro- and anti-vinegar in egg-poaching waters out there, but like I said: this is just what works for me!
Now here is the first of the two Very Most Important Things I Will Tell You About Poaching Eggs: You don’t want boiling water. You don’t want simmering water. You want very hot water at the point right before it simmers, like you see here. Once it gets there, turn the temperature down a bit so it doesn’t bubble. If your water has already begun boiling, bring the temperature down to below the boiling point. See, that’s not so hard?
Break an egg into a small dish. It is always easier to slide the egg in from a dish. I’ve tried it the other way a million times and it never comes together as well in the pot.
Make a whirlpool with your spoon, spatula, whatever you’re using.
Slide the egg into the middle of the whirlpool with your other hand. See how much easier this is when you’ve already put the egg in a dish?
Now here is the second of the two Very Most Important Things I Will Tell You About Poaching Eggs: Don’t panic. Seriously, it’s going to look a little chaotic in there for a moment. You’ll probably have a little white fly off that you had wanted to keep attached to the egg. Breathe. It’s okay. It will still work out.
The reason for the whirlpool is that it really helps the egg stay together, wrapping the white around the yolk. However, you can help it along too with your spatula or spoon by gently pushing it all in as it initially sets. If your egg has stuck to the bottom of the pot, just slide the spatula very very gently underneath after 30 seconds or so of cooking.
A few minutes later, your mostly-perfect egg should be ready. (I look for an egg that wobbles, but just a little, when nudged with the spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes of cooking time for a large egg that was cold from the fridge.) Scoop it out with a slotted spoon.
And let it drain on a folded paper towel. Now let’s say you’re having company and you’ve been insane enough to think you want to poach eggs for all of them. The cool thing is, at this point you can save them for a later. Plunge them in cold water and store them in the fridge for up two days. To reheat them, put them back in hot (but not boiling) water for one minute.
Prepare your toast. For me, this requires a thick slice of sourdough, deep butter saturation, plus sea salt, red pepper flakes, and, if I’m feeling fancy, chives on the egg.
With the egg on top, the fun begins!
I like to make a little notch and let it roll on out. Then I salt and pepper it again. How good does this look? Seriously, I want another one just looking at it now.
[Thank you to Barrett Washburne for styling the refreshed photos!]