Chef Notes: Perfectly Poached Eggs

Chef Notes: Perfectly Poached Eggs

Egg cookery seems like it should be very simple. I mean, how difficult can it be to cook something so basic. Well, if you watch any of the competition cooking shows you’ll realize that to cook eggs according to official culinary standards actually takes some practice. Poached eggs are simply eggs that have been gently cooked in barely simmering water but they are probably the most difficult to perfect. They are certainly the most intimidating. Fortunately, it’s easy to get the hang of it.

One very important piece to really beautifully poached eggs is the eggs must be very fresh. I do not have a local source for fresh eggs which leaves me at the mercy of the grocery store. A little tip I learned from a chef instructor in culinary school was that on the end of the egg carton will be a number between 1 and 365. That number tells you what day of the year the eggs were laid. For instance, if the eggs were laid on February 8th the number would be 039.  This is a much better indicator of the eggs freshness than the expiration date. The reason that fresh eggs are important is because the white of the eggs is tight in fresh eggs and will hold together for a more attractive poached egg. Older egg whites are runny and loose, which is fine for use in recipes or for scrambled eggs or omelets but not so great in poached. That is not to say that you can’t poach older eggs, just don’t expect photo worthy results.

You will also need small bowls, a straight sided skillet, slotted spoon, and vinegar. Fill your skillet to about 1/2” from the top with cold water. Add two tablespoons of white, champagne, or white wine vinegar.  The vinegar helps hold the egg white together. Put your skillet over medium heat and bring almost to a boil. You will probably have to adjust the heat from time to time to maintain this temperature. The water should not be actively simmering or boiling but just about to. While you’re waiting for your water, break your eggs into individual small bowls or ramekins. This is optional. If you can’t stand to dirty up too many dishes you can just do one at a time or break them directly into the water but it could mess up your timing, especially if you’re trying this alone.

As soon as your water is up to temp, use the end of your slotted spoon to get the water circling. Then quickly, but gently, slide your egg into the center of the skillet. The edge or your bowl should be touching the water as you slide your eggs in.  You don’t want to drop it in from above causing the egg white to disperse. Continue using your spoon to keep the water gently circling the egg.  This will also help keep the egg white together.  Cooking times will vary slightly depending on egg size and temperature at the time they are added to the water but it will be around 2 ½ – 3 minutes.  When perfectly cooked, the white should be completely firm and the yolk still completely runny. When done, gently, gently, gently remove the egg from the poaching water with the slotted spoon. Let it drip just a couple of seconds and gently place on a warmed plate.  Sprinkle with kosher or sea salt, a drizzle of truffle oil (if you’re feeling fancy), a little grated parmesan cheese, and a grind or two of black pepper. You can serve simply with a piece of toast or use in dishes like eggs benedict or eggs florentine. My recipe for hollandaise, which ran just a couple of weeks ago, is a perfect accoutrement.

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  1. Laura
    January 24, 09:09 Reply

    What’s your definition of a fresh egg? A week old? A day old?

  2. Amanda Digges
    January 24, 11:32 Reply

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks for your question. The eggs whites begin to break down after about a week. So look for the freshest eggs that you can find, using the number I mentioned in the article as a guide. You can certainly tell when you break an egg if the whites are still firm.

    Keep in mind that eggs will keep in the refrigerator for a month or more. They’re not bad until they smell bad. It just becomes a matter or what they are still useful for. And remember, you can still poach the older eggs they just won’t be as pretty and the white will disperse instead of gathering around the yolk.

    Let me know how you do,


  3. Randy
    January 24, 15:45 Reply

    Very good article. Thanks for explaining things so simply. I think even I can follow them.

  4. Barbara Yankoski
    February 01, 19:43 Reply

    That cute guy I married and I both love poached eggs, whites cooked and yokes runny. I pop the toast down when the water has boiled and then turn the water down as you have described. I personally don’t like the vinegar so I use a small amount of lemon juice. Restaurants often pre-cook their poached eggs and then “hold” them until you order and I feel I can taste the vinegar. Each to their own taste. I learned something today about keeping the water moving and puttting the eggs in the middle of the pan. Thanks as always. …barby

    • Laura Keogh
      February 06, 22:21 Reply

      Barby! So great to hear from you. The cute guy I married and I also love poached eggs. I’m glad you felt you got something from the story, but I’m happier to just hear from you. Thanks, as always, for reading. Laura

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