There is more than one way to poach an egg, and there is more than one tool on the market offering to make the job easier. Consult the expertise of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, or Mark Bittman and each will tell you something slightly different with the same degree of certainty. Bittman says the water in your pan should be 1inch deep, Child says 2 inches. Pepin instructs you to crack the eggs straight into the simmering water, Bittman cracks them into a bowl first. Pepin places the finished egg in an ice bath, Bittman puts them straight onto the plate.
If you’re feeling intimidated, lighten the mood by watching Jacques and Julia face off!
If all this seems too daunting, you can buy any number of single-purpose kitchen tools to achieve uniform results, from expensive specialty pans to simple silicone cups that float in the water. While technique and tools may vary, every cook braving the elusive oeufs pochés has the same goal: to serve up delicate, silky pouches of tender whites wrapped around rich yolk.
Anyone who has attempted to make them can undoubtedly say that these fragile purses require a close eye and steady hand. Because of this, some cooks find the modern gadgets useful. But an egg poached in a silicon cup lacks the elegance that can be achieved with more traditional methods. A cup gives you a perfectly circular, slightly rubbery disk with the yolk sitting too close to the surface. On the plate, it careens maddeningly off your toast rather than clinging to it.
If you find this bothersome, or the conflicting advice of culinary heroes confusing, it is possible to master this exalted dish without culinary prowess or a kitchen store gadget you won’t use again. There is no right way to accomplish the task. Find what works for you.
To make perfect poached eggs you need one large saucepan (5 quarts), one slotted spoon, a lightweight dishcloth or paper towels, distilled white vinegar, a clock or timer, and eggs. The fresher they are, the easier they are to work with. Fill the saucepan about 2/3 full of water, so that it is at least two inches deep. You do not want the eggs to be crowded in the pot; they shouldn’t bang up against each other as they float around, or they may end up sticking together. If you are cooking more than three at a time use a wider pot.
Bring the water to a low boil. Add a dash of distilled white vinegar, about two tablespoons for a large pot. The vinegar will help the whites hold together amid the bubbling water. Reduce the heat slightly until the water is at a steady simmer. Have your eggs close at hand; you will want to add them to the water quickly so each is done at about the same time. On a free work surface lay out your dishcloth, or two doubled paper towels. Lightly crack an egg on the side of the pan so that it is broken but still in one piece, hold it as close over the water as possible without burning yourself, and break the shell smoothly so that the contents slip easily into the water. Repeat this step quickly until all of your eggs are in the water. Set the timer to four minutes.
With the spoon, pull water over each egg in an arching motion, to make the white tendrils tuck up over the yolks. Don’t worry if some of the whites have detached and are floating on the surface. Use the slotted spoon to remove them gently and place them on the cloth to drain. Soak up any hidden water pockets by gently dabbing with the edge of the cloth. Serve warm.
Poaching eggs may seem intimidating, or not worth the effort, but slide your fork through your first springy, warm pillow and taste the glistening gold that comes pouring out, and you will be hooked. How you arrive at such perfection is up to you.