Poached Eggs

Time saver: Phil tries out the different methods of poaching eggs, and finds a clear winner.

Poached egg with broken yolkIt’s been a while between posts, but I’ve been busy trying things out. (Coming soon: calamari, beer battered-anything, braised beef casserole, and more.) Anyway, this is another recipe for my weekend brunch collection.

If you like a poached egg you already know the attraction. The hot buttered toast, the delicate poached egg with that rich flowing yolk, topped with a sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper. Oh yes. And then there’s eggs benedict (my personal favourite), an english muffin, a layer of smoked salmon or bacon, the poached egg, covered in a smooth dome of creamy hollandaise sauce.

Poaching eggs is one of those things that sounds simple in principle, but doesn’t always work out that way in practice. An egg, a pot of water, how hard can it be? Well, if you’ve ever tried it and had an egg completely disintegrate on you, or turn into a disappointing whispy vapour, or been left with nothing but a hard little ball of yolk you already know. Sometimes it works just fine, but the eggs still come out looking not quite right.

That’s why cafes can get away with charging you $10 for a couple of bits of bread with a couple of eggs on them. Not that cafes always get it right. My wife and I recently went to a local cafe and ordered eggs benedict (I’m 50/50 as to whether I should name them, but the first time I went I really liked it, so they get one more chance). Instead of poached eggs we were given hard-boiled eggs – not exactly what we were expecting, and that was before my wife discovered the bits of egg shell they’d neglected to remove. The taste, the texture, the crunch of egg shell, all added up to disappointment. (Not to mention the bland and paltry serving of hollandaise.)

So what if there was a way to poach eggs yourself while getting a top result and saving yourself a fortune? That’s what I’ve been working on. There’s a lot of different advice on how to poach an egg correctly, here’s some of the methods I’ve heard/read about, and tested out (just about all of these techniques require you to use very fresh eggs – within 4 days of being laid):

  • the simple, heat water in a pan, add some vinegar, crack the egg in and hope it stays together. It sometimes works – you need really fresh eggs and a good bit of luck. Even then the eggs spread quite a lot, but the result isn’t too bad.
  • the swirl the water in the pan, crack the egg into a dish, and slide it into the middle of the vortex. Supposedly the whirlpool effect catches the edges of the egg, wrapping it around itself and creating a good shape. (In my experience you get a lot of the egg getting blown out to the sides, you can only cook one at a time, and at 2-3 minutes per egg, it doesn’t exactly scale.)
  • the “use salt”/”vinegar tastes gross” approach. Don’t use salt, it weakens the egg white and far from helping will actually make it harder to get a good poached egg. Besides, I like the faint taste of vinegar on the egg (if you really don’t, you’re better off using nothing rather than salt – or maybe try lemon juice).
  • the deep pan/pot approach. This actually works quite well – you heat a lot of water up in a deep pot to the point just before it boils, add vinegar, then crack your egg into a dish and slide into the pot. Again you need fresh eggs, but following this approach I’d get about 3 out of every 4 eggs turning out fine.
  • the egg-poacher – I used to use our one a lot, since it took a lot of the stress out – essentially it’s a double boiler setup, each egg sits in its own little cup that’s suspended over a pan of boiling water. The drawbacks are probably in the taste/texture – it’s a bit more like a hard-boiled egg than a poached one.
  • the “Julia Child” approach. You heat the water in the pot/pan to almost boiling, then drop each of the eggs in for 10 seconds (still in their shells), remove them then crack into a dish and slide into the pot. Unlike the other techniques your eggs don’t have to be fresh (I’ve used 3 week old eggs and had great results) and you get a reliably good poached egg. We have a winner.

I haven’t actually seen Julia Child’s poached egg recipe – so it was all hearsay – but I tried out her technique, and I can heartily recommend it. If you’re having trouble getting the eggs to stick together, if you don’t have perfectly fresh eggs, or if you’ve never even tried poaching eggs before, this is the way to do it.

Poached eggs – serves 2

  • 4 free-range eggs (if you’ve ever walked through a battery-hen shed this one is obvious)
  • 1-2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • freshly cracked black pepper and salt, to taste
  • 4 pieces of bread (for toast)
  • butter (for toast)
  1. Heat plenty of water in a saucepan/stock pot/deep skillet – around 10cm (4″) deep – until it’s just about boiling (you can use water as little as 4cm deep, but I find I get better shaped eggs with deeper water). Reduce the heat so the water never actually boils (i.e. there should be little air bubbles on the bottom, but it shouldn’t actually simmer).
  2. Drop each of the eggs into the water for 10 seconds, then remove them. (Put your toast on at this point.)
  3. One by one, crack each egg into a small dish/saucer, then gently slide into the water. (You can crack them directly into the water, but the saucer gives you more control.)
  4. Cook the eggs in the water for around 2-3 minutes (2 for a nice runny yolk).
  5. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon/fish slice and place on a plate. Pat dry with paper towels, and trim any messy parts of the egg white. (Alternatively, you can prepare the eggs the night before – if doing that, cook for 2 minutes, then remove from the hot water and immediately plunge into icy cold water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, transfer to a plate, pat dry and trim as per usual then cover and store in the fridge. The next day, reheat by putting back into a pan of hot water and heating for up to a minute.)
  6. Transfer each egg to a piece of hot buttered toast, then season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Poached eggs