how to cook poached eggs

Yesterday, at the Can’t Boil Water Café, I finally managed to cook and present reasonable poached eggs. It’s a dish probably 40 years in the making – I’ve never been very successful at cooking poached eggs. I’ve written here before about making soft boiled eggs, and here about making hard boiled eggs. I think egg dishes are the hardest to make – they cook quickly – about as long as it takes to make a cocktail – and they’re either right on the button – or sadly, second best – try again. I’m so excited about this I’ve decided to publish and be damned, rather than prove my technique to myself a couple of dozen times before leaping into writing about it.

I used a small frying pan – the pan I usually use for omelettes and filled it 3/4 full of water. I brought the water to a rolling boil and added about a teaspoon of salt. While the salt was dissolving I broke four room temperature eggs into a cereal bowl. I turned the heat off, and when the water had settled down, I eased the eggs into the water. I then turn the heat on again, to a low simmer – trying to minimise the water movement, but keeping the water temperature as hot as possible. My theory was if the water is moving too fast the egg white is swirled around, resulting in egg white soup. What you are trying to achieve is the egg white to stay clinging around the yolk.

When the yolks looked as solid as I wanted, scooped the eggs out using a slotted spoon (who needs watery toast?) and place them on their serving bed. In this case, the serving bed was wholemeal toast, some slices of ham off the bone, and a layer of freshly steamed asparagus. After the eggs I added a generous slurp or two of hot hollandaise, and a vigorous grind of black pepper.

Luxury, calm, and delight.

I’ve tried using vinegar in the water, and lemon juice, and lots of salt, and no salt. None seemed to have any real consistently productive effects. It’s particularly annoying if the egg sticks in the pan, and then breaks as you remove it – I’m sure that’s about sustaining the water temperature. I’ve tried poached eggs in the little pans – while this works in terms of neatness, the eggs have always seemed to be more leathery to me. Besides, that’s steamed, almost coddled eggs, and that’s simply not the same as poached. I rarely order poached eggs in restaurants because although it is a favourite of mine, clearly, the technique has eluded must cooking staff as well. What drives me nuts about this is my mother can cook superb poached eggs – I suppose experience makes the difference. After all the years of having not mastered this simple dish it’s been a big breakthrough for me. Now I’ve got a technique going on I’ll attempt to recreate the success.

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