Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I've heard numerous tricks and tips about making the perfect poached egg.  Swirl the hot water so that the egg "comes in on itself" to stay together.  Add vinegar to the water because that helps to keep the egg together.  Take the water down to a  simmer before adding the eggs.  And in truth, there are only a few things that really count in making a perfect poached egg. 

Before I get into that, the proof is in the pudding.  Look at those two eggs in this picture.  I just made (and ate) those this morning.  I didn't use a form to keep them round.  And those little bits you see on the eggs are not pepper.    Before I made the eggs, I cooked two potatoes and diced them into a hot cast iron skillet with a little onion and browned them nicely.  I also cooked up two Sweet Italian Sausages in a small non stick skillet and diced those to add to the potatoes and onions.  I let them keep warm in the skillet while I made the eggs.  The following method may sound terribly labor intensive.  But that's only because I'm giving you so much information and detail.  I made these eggs in about 5 minutes.  One of the secrets to cooking eggs of any kind, is to take your time.  Eggs that are cooked too fast will not render perfect eggs.  Even scrambled eggs require slightly lower heat to keep them soft and fluffy, and fried eggs need lower heat to keep them from browning around the edges and getting leathery while the rest of the egg isn't cooked yet. 

The first secret to making beautiful poached eggs to buy FRESH eggs.  Fresh eggs have the quality of being more firm inside the shell.  The yolk and the white will both stand up high. You can see how high they stand in this photo and you can see it in the cooked eggs in the photo above, too.  An egg that isn't fresh will have a yolk that is relatively flat, and the white part will be flat and runny as well. 
Now, eggs that aren't "fresh" aren't bad eggs.  They have just lost some of the qualities that make a great poached egg.  You can test an egg for freshness by putting it into a glass of cold water.  If it sinks, it's fresh.  If it floats, it's not fresh.  Why? Well, because as the egg yolk and the white part break down, it creates an air pocket inside the shell - so it floats. Fresh eggs are more tasty, of course, and there are many dishes that would benefit from fresh eggs. But in my opinion the only time the freshness of an egg is really truly important, is when you want to poach it.  The firmness of the white part is what keeps the egg in good shape during the poaching process. By the way, some people like to store eggs on the counter or in the pantry, and that's ok.  Just use them up more quickly.  One day on the counter ages an egg as much as one week in the fridge. And don't use them for poaching.
I don't always  do this but this time I used the same skillet that I cooked the sausages in to make the eggs.  I just added enough water to fill the skillet.  The skillet is a smallish one, enough room in it to cook only two or three eggs.  When I filled the skillet with the water, naturally, the water was tinted with the browning that was left in the skillet from cooking sausages.  Plain water is fine too, but I wanted to cook the eggs in the sausage flavored water. If you don't have a non stick, just put a dab of butter in the bottom of the pan.  It will give some aid in removing the eggs from the pan later.

So that's the second secret.  Use a shallow pan and hopefully you have a lid for it.  Use any pan that will hold enough water to cover the eggs. Bring the water to a high boil, then turn it down to the lowest heat possible. Not simmering!  Wait until the water no longer has any boiling bubbles in it.  The movement of the water is what breaks apart the egg whites.  So once the water is no longer bubbling, crack your fresh egg into a small bowl, and the very carefully pour the egg into the water.  Do the same for each egg.  Now cover the pan.  Make sure the water doesn't boil again.  It will cook the outside too fast and stir up the whites making them fly all around the pan.  Let the eggs sit in this hot water for approximately 4 - 6 minutes.  This will render you a poached egg that has a cooked white and a slightly runny yolk.  Leave it in the water a minute less, or a minute more, depending on how well you like your eggs cooked.  Then just use a spoon that is large enough to lift the entire egg out of the pan.  Using a spoon too small will allow the egg to break off as it hangs over the edge of the spoon. A slotted spoon allows all the water to drain away.  Even a wooden spoon will work, just be sure to drain well.

So good luck making poached eggs.  Forget the vinegar, forget swirling the water, forget the small saucepan.  Use fresh eggs, a shallow pan with plenty of water in it, and simmering water (no bubbles).  Add a little patience to let the eggs cook gently, and you'll enjoy the healthiest way to prepare a delicious egg!

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