There are few things which incite fear in a home cook as much as poaching a simple egg. Google searches on how to poach an egg will yield considerable results with varying techniques and tips on how to poach an egg to perfection. Should vinegar be added to the water?; should you create a whirlpool vortex in the water?; should you put the egg in cling wrap?; should you add salt to the water?… and the list goes on. I’ve poached many an egg in the past but, I have to admit, that my poached eggs are not always perfect. So why the sudden inclination to perfect my egg poaching technique? Because I’m always in search of perfection when it comes to cooking and so…why not? 😉
In the pursuit of egg-poaching perfection, I deferred to the likes of Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver and countless others chefs who know a thing or two about poaching an egg. I’ve tried out all their recipes, techniques and tips to master the poached egg and here are my results.
1. FRESH EGGS: First things first. You MUST start with a fresh egg. Unless you get your eggs straight from a chicken, it can be hard to tell if your eggs are fresh or not even with the expiration date listed on the egg carton. (You can rely on the ‘Julian date’ – a three digit number on the carton which indicates the day of the year the eggs were packed, but if you’re like me, I discard the egg carton after I purchase them so I can’t rely on that.)
One simple way to know if your egg is fresh is to fill a clear bowl or measuring cup with water and gently drop your egg in it. If the egg stays on it side (see above photograph) it is fresh. If the egg stands on its head (i.e. not on its side) or starts to float, it is may still be good to cook and eat but not great for poaching. There’s a small air pocket inside an egg and when the egg is not as fresh, the air pocket grows as the inside of the egg shrinks, causing it to float. Eggs which are not fresh will have watery egg whites which will cause your egg whites to float to the top of the pot when poaching and creating a spindley mess on the surface, leaving you with more of a poached egg yolk and not so much egg white!
2. TEMPERATURE: You’ll want the water to come to a near boil on medium then you’ll lower the heat to a gentle simmer until it reaches 80°C (176°F). Keep it steady at that temperature. If you don’t have a temperature gauge (they are sold at most food markets for about $10 or so), you’ll know that it should be low-medium heat and gently simmering. You don’t want to boil the water! Poached eggs require delicate heat, not boiling water! I placed a small saucer in the bottom of the pot so the egg would not have direct heat on it while it cooks.
3. TIME: I found the perfect time for poaching the eggs so the yolks are tender with a pillowey egg white around it, is 4 minutes. Exactly. So time it. The eggs you see above were overcooked by about 2 minutes so the yolk can go hard in a matter of minutes.
WHIRLPOOL TECHNIQUE: Some techniques for poaching an egg require that you use a whisk and spin the water around the pot to create a whirlpool effect. As the water spins, the turbulence of the water will cause the egg white to form around the egg yolk. You’ll know you’re on the right track if your egg comes out looking like a small mozzarella ball with an egg yolk that ‘jiggles’ when touched.
VERDICT: This actually worked out for me quite well. I used a fresh egg and a not-so-fresh egg and while the fresh egg didn’t require it as much, the not-so-fresh egg need the whirlpool to get the whites wrapped around the yolk. I did end up with a considerable amount of egg white which rose to the top of the pot, and that was less than desirable.
CLING WRAP TECHNIQUE: This technique requires that you place the egg in a small bowl which is lined with cling wrap and lightly oiled. Once the egg is dropped in the bowl, you bring the cling wrap up around it and create a small little ball which you secure with a twist tie. You’ll then drop the egg in the water with the cling wrap with this technique
VERDICT: It worked quite well. Since the egg white was contained in the cling wrap, we didn’t have the issue of egg whites floating to the top so there was no need to create the whirlpool with a whisk. That said, the impression of the cling wrap folds on the egg were apparent but I just flipped the egg over and it was close to perfect! This is great if you have a lot of eggs to poach as the eggs can be wrapped ahead of time. Once your guests arrive, you can simply drop all of the eggs in the water for 4 minutes and you’re done!. I wouldn’t use this technique at home for just the family as those little creases on the egg are a bit bothersome to the eye!
VINEGAR AND SALT TECHNIQUE: This requires you to place a tablespoon of vinegar to every 2 quarts of water and a pinch of salt to keep the egg whites together. This technique is often combined with the whirlpool technique.
VERDICT. Fail. I didn’t care for this technique at all. The vinegar did not keep the whites together and, what’s worse is that the eggs smelled of the vinegar after they were removed from the water! I tried it once with the whirlpool technique and once with the water still, and the results were less than perfect for both.
STAINER TECHNIQUE: This requires you to crack an egg into a strainer/sieve or slotted spoon to drain the excess egg whites. Even fresh eggs have some excess watery whites and so they are removed with the help of a strainer so the watery white fall away and don’t cause a spindley mess of egg white at the top of the pot.
VERDICT: Genius. This will almost always guarantee that you won’t get excess white around the pot which is ruin your perfectly round egg and create a wasteland of egg whites on the top of the pot.
Perfectly Poached Eggs
Salt and Pepper to season
Place about 1.5 quarts of water in a medium sized pot. Place a small saucer which fits in the bottom of the pot, inside the pot, letting it fall to the bottom (face down so the bottom of the saucer is facing you). Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer until it reaches 80°C (176°F).
Crack a fresh egg into a small bowl or cup. Lower the egg into a strainer, sieve or a slotted spoon so the excess watery egg white drains off. Using a whisk, create some momentum in the pot by spinning the water to create a whirlpool effect. While the water is spinning gently, lower your egg slowly in the water. The egg will start to settle at the bottom of the upturned saucer (so there is no direct heat hitting the egg) and will continue to cook for exactly 4 minutes. The process can be repeated to make multiple eggs but make sure not to overcrowd the pot (I try to do no more than 2 eggs at a time) and make sure to take the eggs out after 4 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the egg onto a plate lined with paper towel to allow the water to drain off. Season simply with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve the eggs immediately.
RECIPES OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS: Mint and Coriander Chutney and Dashboard Cookies and Raspberry Lemonade and Veal Fricassee
and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits and Banoffee Pie and Caterpillar Bread and Osso Buco and Apple Cinamon Rings and Beef Confetti Rice