Poached eggs are a favorite around my house. Because there’s no added fat in the cooking of them—the eggs out of their shell are cooked in simmering water—poached eggs show off all of the incredible flavor eggs have to offer.
I’ve always been puzzled by the disproportionate number of kitchen gizmos marketed around this relatively simple cooking method. With fresh eggs, a few basic pieces of equipment—a pot, a slotted spoon, a dish to crack the eggs into—and some helpful hints, achieving a luxurious poached egg is actually a relatively simple accomplishment.
Start with the freshest eggs
My idea of a perfectly poached egg is when the set white envelops the runny yolk, forming a teardrop shape. To get those results, you need to start with the freshest eggs you can get your hands on. As eggs age, a lot of things are happening inside that porous shell. Moisture and air are moving from inside the shell to the outside environment, and vice versa. During this time, the egg white, also called the albumen, thins. You don’t want a thin albumen for poached eggs because it won’t hold its shape as well as a thick one. A thicker white will also cling to the yolk better. Another benefit of fresh eggs: they have a stronger yolk that’s less likely to break.
To check an egg’s freshness, put it (in its shell) in a large bowl of room- temperature water. As an egg ages, it loses moisture, and the air sac inside the large end of the egg shell enlarges. The swelling of the air sac increases the egg’s buoyancy. Therefore, the older the egg, the higher it floats. If an egg shows more than the size of a dime above the water, it’s not suitable for poaching; you might want to scramble it instead and wait to poach with fresher eggs. To keep eggs fresh, store them in the container they came in them and keep them cold.
Poach the eggs straight from the fridge. Adding cold eggs to hot water is a good move for a couple of reasons. Eggs are noticeably more viscous when cold and so will hold their shape better when added to the hot water. Also, starting with a cold egg will promote slow cooking so that the yolk will still be runny when the white is completely set. Although you can crack the egg right into the pot of water, you’ll get more consistent results by cracking the egg into a small dish or ramekin first and then pouring the egg into the pot as close to the water as possible.
Cook the eggs in water four inches deep. The depth of the water is an important factor for achieving the teardrop-shaped poached egg. In four inches of water, the yolk drops to the bottom of the pan with the egg white trailing above it. If the water is too shallow, the egg will look like it’s been cooked over easy. Too deep, and too much of the egg white will be drawn to the top of the water.
The secret ingredient: vinegar. Adding vinegar to the water will assist in the coagulation of the egg white. Two tablespoons of vinegar to every quart of water is beneficial without any residual taste of vinegar in the egg. I also add half a tablespoon of coarse salt per quart of water, which seasons the egg lightly while also promoting coagulation.
Gently pour cold, cracked eggs into salted, simmering water
Start with four inches of water and add vinegar and salt. Use 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon salt per quart of water.
Crack cold eggs into little dishes for risk-free results. This way you’ll know your yolks were whole going in.
Bring the dish as close to the water as possible and gently pour all at once. Pouring from great heights will deform the egg’s shape.