Mastering egg cookery - best way to poach an egg
October 24, 2004 6:47 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to poach an egg?

Should the poaching water be deep or shallow, boiling or simmering, on the heat or off the heat, covered or uncovered, acidulated with vinegar or lemon juice or unacidulated, salted or unsalted? Should the eggs be room temperature or straight out of the fridge? Cracked straight into the water or slipped in with a teacup?

And while you're here, what's your favourite way to serve poached eggs?
posted by obiwanwasabi to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
This is a good question. I have been trying to master this for years. For consistent results I use something like this but I have always been curious as to how they do it in the water. Mine always disperse into many little bits of white.

And on wholemeal toast or a crumpet with fresh tomato and cracked pepper. Make on Saturday morning with newspaper and coffee. The yellow has to be runny. Mmmmmm.
posted by bdave at 7:25 PM on October 24, 2004

poached in a big vat of home-made tomato sauce, aka 'uova in purgatorio'. now that is goram tastey.


julian may recommends serving poached eggs in large quantity with maple syrup and bread. this is also good.
posted by dorian at 7:34 PM on October 24, 2004

In the dead of night when the farmer is asleep.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:37 PM on October 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Ranchos huevos (sp!) is the name I know it by: basically, eggs poached in spicy tomato salsa.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:41 PM on October 24, 2004

1. keep the water at a simmer (not a boil)
2. Add a little vinegar to the water (keeps the white together)
3. Crack into a cup first, slide into water gently.
4. After a few seconds use a spoon to flip them over and off the bottom.
5. rinse briefly to remove vinegar taste.
6. enjoy

shallow is probably better than deep, as long as they are covered and have a little room, but works either way.
posted by furcifer at 7:47 PM on October 24, 2004

Mmmm...I made eggs benedict this morning...I love poached eggs with hollandaise. I make them pretty much as furcifer suggests, although, rather than flipping mine, I generally baste them with the simmering water. And, when making them for benedict, I use lemon juice instead of vinegar, and I don't rinse them, because I like the extra tiny bit of tang.
posted by dejah420 at 7:54 PM on October 24, 2004

Warmest greetings, much-missed obiwanwasabi! Let's hope it can soon be said he came to poach an egg but ended up staying for the full banquet!

The crucially important thing about poaching eggs is that the eggs should be extremely fresh - at most a couple of days since laid. (much like your average Mefite)

Then, you need a good jolt of vinegar - doesn't have to be wine vinegar - in the water.

Finally, when the water's simmering (don't let it boil furiously), create a whirpool in it by stirring it vigorously. Crack the egg into this whirpool. A lot of people crack the egg open beforehand, onto a plate, then slide it in.

Oh - the egg must be at room temperature, which means tepid, i.e. give it at least an hour out of the fridge before using it.

This guarantees a perfect, classically poached egg and solves the problem mentioned by Bdave.

We Portuguese wholly agree about the natural affinity with tomato and wouldn't dream of tomato soup or a glorious tomatada (just a lot of fresh tomatoes slowly cooked after slowly cooking onions and garlic in a little olive oil for about twenty minutes) without a poached egg.

There's a very quick Portuguese soup though, from the Alentejo, called "Sopa à Alentejana" which I used to make when I was a poor student in England. It's so easy and delicious: just pour boiling water on very finely chopped garlic and coriander, add torn-up day-old white bread, poach an egg into it and, when serving, drizzle in a little olive oil. It takes - what? - three minutes.

Of course, to be on the safe side, you'll poach your eggs (one per serving) beforehand. All French chefs know that, once you've poached an egg (specially if you drop it into icy water for a few seconds to stop it cooking and so leave the yoke runny), you can just refrigerate them until they're needed).

I could go into the decodification rituals needed how to know how an egg is freshly laid if you buy them in big supermarkets (eggs last for almost two months in the fridge) but I know you'll have no difficulty obtaining great eggs whare you live.

All the best!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:01 PM on October 24, 2004 [6 favorites]

FFF, shouldn't that be huevos rancheros? Maybe not, though. Huevos rancheros to me involves fried eggs, refried beans, pico de gallo and tortilla chips. I remember that well from a vacation spent on the Island of Women.

dorian, uova in purgatorio was the first recipe from the Sopranos Family Cookbook I knew I had to try.
posted by emelenjr at 8:02 PM on October 24, 2004

er, whirlpool
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:03 PM on October 24, 2004

emelenjr -- sooner or later I will get 'round to watching me some sopranos, but for now I have to admit to being a sometimes-devoted follower of lidia.
posted by dorian at 8:40 PM on October 24, 2004

I like Delia Smith's technique. No vinegar needed, but it only works with really fresh eggs as other posters have mentioned.
posted by arha at 8:44 PM on October 24, 2004

Second the whirlpool technique.

So how do you find really fresh eggs in the supermarket, Migs? Or is that an AskMe question its own self?
posted by Vidiot at 10:23 PM on October 24, 2004

I would like to respectfully differ with some of Delia Smith's advice.

If you crack an egg directly into the water, you better be darn skilled at it or you'll make a mess of it. A far more reliable technique is to do what furcifer suggests and crack them into a bowl first, then slide it into the water.

So how do you find really fresh eggs in the supermarket, Migs?

Do your supermarkets carry a packaging date? Make sure it's the day you're buying it. Test the egg by putting it in a large bowl of water to completely immerse it. A fresh egg will stay at the bottom of the bowl and lie on its side. If it floats, it's very old and you should chuck it.
posted by madman at 10:35 PM on October 24, 2004

I like the whirlpool technique.

Some additional tips:

- Refrigerated eggs can be dumked in lukewarm water to quickly bring them up to room temp. This works for all kinds of other things too.

- The ideal temperature for poaching is just short of a boil. Before each egg, bring the water to a vigorous boil, then lower the heat to low before putting the egg in the water.

- If your eggs are not fresh enough for poaching, they're probably ideal for hard boiling (or spoiled already).
posted by Caviar at 10:37 PM on October 24, 2004

Vidiot: You gotta work back from the expiry date. It varies a lot in different countries and states. Madman's technique is classic and invaluable (it relies on the amount of air inside the egg), but it can't distinguish between freshly-laid eggs (the ideal for poaching: from under the chickens into the saucepan) and 3 or 4-day-old eggs.

Absolutely perfect poached eggs must be just-laid. After that, by order, they can be fried, roasted, scrambled or made into an omelette. If you read Elizabeth David or Julia Child, you'll find that the age of eggs is important to the method you cook them.

Fried eggs are better if the eggs are more than 3 days old. Scrambled eggs are best a week after. Really good omelettes are benefitted by at least 10 days' wait. BUT - this is a rule - poached eggs must be just-laid. Otherwise they're gelatinous and airy, spread-out and remarkably rotten-tasting.

Boiling (and steaming) is what you do when food is alive (whether it's lobster, hake or eggs). It's quintessential and Zen. There's no butter; olive oil: techniques; seasonings. It stands on its own. This is why poached eggs are the supra sumo of eggs,

The vinegar is truly important - it has something to do with encouraging the albumen to form. Harold McGees books are a lot of fun in explaining this.

Also, what Caviar says: in fact, I think what you have to do is join together all the tips which have been given so far. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:01 PM on October 24, 2004

This is tangential, but thanks to a similar inquiry on a certain other site that likes files, great piles of them, this is the way to make a perfect boiled egg.

Boil your water, enough to cover the eggs by an inch or so. Put the eggs in once a rolling boil has been achieved, and turn off the heat. Cover. Wait 16 minutes. Enjoy.

I have tried this, and it is quite a surprising improvement to anything I've tried before in the boiling department.

*hopes he remembered the procedure correctly*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:54 PM on October 24, 2004 [2 favorites]

stavros--that is indeed a great way to make a boiled egg. ("Perfect" meaning that creamy, soft yellow yolk that's like half-way between a chalky"hard-boiled" and a runny "soft-boiled". You can obviously adjust the "hardness" by adjusting the timing.)

I've always done it by leaving the water on simmer, though, like the poaching technique here, since it takes less time (generally around 10 for a great egg), and you can boil more than one or two eggs at once with consistent results.

And as long as we're starting to broaden/derail the topic a bit, a couple more tips on great boiled eggs:

1) poke a little hole with a pin in the wide end...there's a bubble of air in there that will expand with heat, and that's usually what makes the shell crack

2) Like poached eggs, throw the eggs in ice water for a couple of minutes right after you take them off the stove. I've heard it explained that this helps draw the sulfur in the egg back away from yolk, and avoids that green color from showing up. Whether or not that's what's actually happening on a chemical level, it definitely seems to work.
posted by LairBob at 5:30 AM on October 25, 2004

I cheat and use an egg poacher. Don't that one, though. You need one with metal cups. Place on warm toast with real butter and a little pepper. Perfect.
posted by normy at 8:04 AM on October 25, 2004

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