If you're like me and l-i-v-e for a perfectly poached egg, you will also, like me, have tried all those egg-poaching shenanigans because honestly, you'd do almost anything, wouldn't you? just to figure out how to cook poached eggs to perfection, turning out firm whites and runny yolks each and every time.
Tap your Dorothy heels twice while whistling for Toto? It doesn't work. Neither does Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200. All those crazy egg-poaching techniques, they just don't work, never have, never will. But now? Leave it to Cook's Illustrated to crack the code for perfect poached eggs.
My mother’s Greatest-Generation mindset was that a good purse and a good lipstick were solid investments. In her world, that meant one handbag and one lipstick, not closets- or vanities-full. “When you use something every day,” she’d counsel, “spend more, it’s worth it.”
My culinary mindset says that for dishes we make every day, it pays to invest in technique. Since learning how to perfectly poach eggs, I’ve poached a couple of dozen eggs, all but two turned out exactly right. (A possible explanation? They might have been a little old.)
Where my mother and I part? I want a recipe-boxful of good ways to cook eggs, not just one. This makes perfectly poached eggs just one of many ways to cook eggs in my repertoire, albeit a much welcome one.
Here are the tips I learned recently from Cook's Illustrated.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PAN Perfectly poach eggs in a skillet, not a saucepan. The eggs move around less, are less likely to break apart.
SALT & VINEGAR Perfectly poach eggs in water that includes salt, which flavors the eggs, and vinegar, which holds the whites together.
EASY DOES IT For perfectly poached eggs, gently slip the eggs into the water, don’t directly crack them from the shell.
NIX THE BOILING WATER! Perfectly poach eggs off-heat in hot water, not boiling water. First bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Perhaps it’s our cold Midwestern winter climate but I’ve also found it necessary to hold that heat in with a lid.
CLOCKWORK For perfectly poached eggs, watch the clock. To my taste, that’s five minutes, exactly. To my sister, who’s a Nervous Nelly about soft egg whites, that’s likely closer to seven minutes.
HOW to PERFECTLY
POACH an EGG:
The COOK'S ILLUSTRATED TECHNIQUE
Time to table: 10 minutes
Makes 4 poached eggs
- Kosher salt or sea salt
- White vinegar
- 4 large eggs
- Salt & pepper
Fill a shallow skillet with about 1-1/2 inches of water, an 8-inch skillet works for two eggs, a 12-inch works for four eggs. Add salt (about 1/2 tablespoon) and vinegar (a big splash, about a tablespoon). Bring the water to a hard boil, a good ‘n’ bubbly boil.
While the water comes to a boil, crack the eggs into small bowls (I use small ramekins), one per egg or one per person if you don't mind a couple of eggs poaching together. Dig out a slotted spoon, preferably one only slightly larger than an egg. Place a single layer of paper towel over a plate. Keep all these nearby.
Once the water boils, work quickly:
Turn off the heat but leave the skillet on the element.
Two at a time, one in each hand, tip the small bowls into the water, gently slipping the eggs into the skillet. Keep the eggs separate, as far apart as you can.
Cover the skillet with a lid.
Set the timer for 5 minutes for runny yolks or 6 - 7 minutes for firm yolks.
Now walk away, whatever it takes to stop looking under the lid and letting the heat escape! It’s that residual heat that is needed to perfectly poach the eggs.
After five to seven minutes, gently lift each egg out of the water with the slotted spoon and gently rest the egg on the paper towel for a few seconds, this removes that last bit of water which makes for watery poached eggs. Gently lift each egg off the paper towel and onto a plate or into a bowl of soup. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
Savor and enjoy! For wholesome, homey comfort food, there’s nothing quite like a perfectly poached egg.
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