Simple food, done well is the basis of great cuisine. Learning good technique not only improves your kitchen skill-set, but it also helps to boost confidence and makes for superior results. Today’s focus: how to poach eggs, perfectly, every time!
This is a part of a series I call Back-to-Basics, where we explore everything from classic sauces to some of my best short-cuts, pro tips, and food hacks.
Eggs are one of the quickest, easiest, and cleanest protein staples in your kitchen. Whether they’re fried, steamed, baisted, boiled, scrambled, frambled, baked, whipped, pickled, or poached they’re packed with nutrition and ready in minutes. From our favorite breakfast fare to light lunches and lazy dinners, learning to cook eggs with ease can make a massive difference in meal quality and presentation.
They’re delicate little suckers.
Definition; Poach (transitive verb): to cook in simmering liquid.
Poaching is a simple cooking method; simmer, immerse, cook, remove. You could poach in any liquid, from stocks to sauces and even stews. A cold-weather favorite the French Oeufs en Meurette or Poached Eggs in Red Wine Sauce, is always popular at our house. But most eggs you’ll poach will probably be poached in plain old h20, with a splash of vinegar.
Just water and vinegar, and that’s IT. Why vinegar? Vinegar helps the white of the egg to hold its shape in water, without it they become messy and nasty.
Tips & Timing
For best results, start with the freshest eggs you can find. Fresh is best, every time. Some recommend draining the egg in a fine-mesh sieve to remove the thin albumen (loose white) that makes the water cloudy while you poach eggs. This is very effective, but not necessary. Personally, I like a little imperfection, in my perfection.
Some prefer a low swirl, submerge, and then and allow eggs to settle at the bottom of a pan. I find this leads to flat eggs and sometimes sticking-to-the-bottom-of-your-pan-eggs and nobody wants that. So I go full-on vortex for great results.
How long for your perfect poached egg?
3 – 4 minutes for firm whites and liquid yokes
5 – 6 minutes for medium poached, soft-in-the-center yokes
7 – 8 minutes for hard poached, solid whites and firm yokes
Around and Round She Goes!
This is a technique from the pro kitchen that translates well into the home kitchen. Requiring nothing more than a decent-sized saucepan, a whisk, a spoon and some good old-fashioned elbow grease; you create delicate, spherical poached eggs that nestle beautifully into your favorite egg dishes and ooze with gooey yolk perfection.
Commonly called the “swirl method” it’s as simple as; crack, swirl, slip, cook and remove.
Check out my tips below for perfectly poached eggs any chef would praise. Bonus points… it’s FUN and just a touch mesmerizing. The trick is, to slip those eggs in there one at a time, while the water’s whirling around. Takes a few more dishes, but I promise you perfect results, every single time.
With the swirl method, you can master the art of not just poaching eggs, but holding a poached egg, cold, so you can re-heat and fire multiple plates at once. It’s a poached egg game-changer!
In the same way you shock vegetables with cold water to maintain crunch and colour by stopping the cooking process, once your poached eggs are firm enough to move, gently shift them from hot water to cold and hold as long as you need.
Q: Can poached eggs hold overnight? A: Yes they can.
In fact, they can hold submerged in water in the fridge, for up to five days if needed. Then simply reheat in simmering water until JUST heated all the way through (20 – 30 seconds) and serve. This makes for a quick and easy breakfast for the masses or advanced prep. I’m a huge fan of advanced prep, it helps me to better enjoy the people I cook for!
Once you learn how to poach eggs, it opens a world of eggy goodness. A great poached egg can take you in so many delicious directions; from Eggs Benedict and its many incarnations like my ode to Italian Breakfast, or try a classic Salade Lyonnaise, but nothing beats the comforting simplicity of poached eggs on toast.
How to poach eggs so they’re perfect every time? All you need is a splash of vinegar, a couple of inches of simmering water, and a whisk to create a vortex. Then slip your eggs in one by one and watch as they form delicate, spherical pouches of egg goodness!
3 – 5 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Fill a saucepan with enough cold water to easily cover eggs. Add vinegar. Bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat.
While water is heating crack eggs into individual small bowls or cups; one egg per cup (see notes on cooking multipule eggs at once). If preparing poached eggs in advance, prepare a medium bowl with an ice water bath and reserve, cold.
Once the water comes to a low boil reduce your heat to maintain a sloid rolling simmer. Take a clean whisk and whisk teh water to create a whirlpool.
Working quickly, so as not to lose the spin of the water, gently slip eggs into the water, one at a time. Cook to desired doneness.
Quickly remove with a slotted spoon, drain and dry lightly on a paper towel if serving immediately – OR reserve cold to re-heat and serve as needed.
Best practice: do not load eggs en mass. They’ll just stick together and form one BIG egg bundle and that’s not what we’re going for. You don’t need to cook your eggs all at once, stage them in depending on the size of your pot, up to four at a time, and use that cold water shock bath.
Before you slide those eggs in, let the water slow down just a bit. You can spin the yokes right out of the whites or create an em=longated tadpole shape if you’re cooking in a water tornado. Practice makes perfect.
Keywords: How to Poach Eggs, Poaching Eggs, Perfect Poached Eggs
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.