How to Poach a Perfect Egg –
The Cook's Illustrated Technique

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.

How to Perfectly Poach an Egg

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.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite special recipe for cooking eggs that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!

HOW to PERFECTLY POACH an EGG:
The COOK'S ILLUSTRATED TECHNIQUE

Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Time to table: 10 minutes
Makes 4 poached eggs
  • Water
  • 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.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Large Egg: 71 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 211mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium; 0g Carb; 0g Fiber; 0g Sugar; 6g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 2, WW PointsPlus 2
For more life-changing culinary techniques, find a copy of The Science of Good Cooking from Cook’s Illustrated. The book is on my Amazon wishlist but I heard Jack Bishop from Cook's Illustrated interview on The Splendid Table awhile back and made my first perfect poached eggs the very next morning!

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I mini-farm sat for friends for a couple of weeks over the New Year's break (summer holidays here in NZ); their hens each produced an egg everyday. A friend came from Japan to stay for a week during that time and with all the fresh eggs she was keen to learn how to prepare poached eggs, as she likes eggs benedict. The method I use is just as you have shared here, and my friend was really pleased how easy it was for her to do too. With such fresh eggs I found I had to put more water in the pan than usuaI, because the eggs sat up so much higher than the ones I buy. I also use a lid to help retain the heat.
 
Robyn ~ What a world this is! I write something in the middle of the United States, in minutes you read it in New Zealand where you've just been visited by a friend from Japan! And we all like our poached eggs ...

PS Great tip about more water for farm-fresh eggs, thanks!
 
I'm so glad to start the day with yolk porn.

Would you mind if I link to this for my Green Eggs and Ham post coming out in time for Dr Seuss' birthday? I fried the eggs for my eggs Benedict (the green part refers to adding CSA farm share spinach to the Hollandaise) because I like fried eggs and have yet to master the perfectly poached technique. But I've got 4 teeny ramekins, a 12 inch skillet, and a lid that fits over it, so I'm game to try.

I'd have to set the timer for 6 minutes though. Just because it's in the middle.
Thanks!
 
They've gotta be fresh eggs. Old eggs are great for cooking hard-boiled and easy shucking. New eggs hold together and don’t spread out. Method sounds good, I like the vinegar. Helps a lot.
 
We have poached eggs a couple of times a week. We like them on toast, French peasant bread from Breadsmith. I mostly do what your recipe calls for, but I haven't put salt into the water. I'll try that, though. And I haven't been turning off the heat, covering the pan, or timing them. I use a non-stick skillet, and watch the eggs cook.
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna