Beyond the Basics

How to Poach an Egg

By • January 27, 2014 • 20 Comments

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Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef Camille Becerra is going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.

Today: Put on a pot of water, and watch Camille demonstrate the technique behind a perfect poached egg. Then start putting them on everything in sight. 

In the world of eggs, the poached egg is certainly king, the way it sits atop other food all regal. As cooks, we all know that presenting a perfectly poached egg puts us a notch up over others.

As the hashtag goes, #putaneggonit applies to many a meal: It’s a breakfast staple, it goes great atop a salad at lunch, and for dinner, the runny yolk becomes a sauce that finishes dishes like a carbonara, roasted vegetables, grains, and my favorite, pesto pasta.    

If you haven’t quite mastered the art of a proper poach, it’s probably because of one of these reasons:

  • Water is under- or over-acidulated (in other words, you've added too much or too little acid).
  • Water is not hot enough, or it's boiling too vigorously.
  • The egg sticks to the bottom of the pan.
  • The egg is removed from the water before it's ready.

Here's how to do it right: 

Fill a tall pot with water, salt it well, and add 3 tablespoons of vinegar per 1 gallon of water. (The vinegar helps to coagulate the egg.) I prefer a deep pot because I love how the egg develops a teardrop shape as its plunges into water and sinks to the bottom.  

When the water begins to boil, lower the temperature just a bit so it simmers; too aggressive of a boil can potentially break the yolk.  

Crack an egg into a small cup or bowl; this ensures the egg dives into the water in one shot, and no unwanted shells slip in.  

Using a slotted spoon, begin to stir water to develop a tornado effect, then quickly drop the egg into the eye of the tornado. As the egg drops down, the movement of the water will prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. If you find that the movement of the water stops before the egg develops a strong outer layer, stir the water gently so that the egg stays afloat.

After about 2 to 3 minutes, use the slotted spoon to lift the egg just slightly above the surface of the water and check its doneness. When the white has completely coagulated, your egg is ready! If you still see parts of uncooked whites begin to slightly seep out of the egg, put it back into the water and let it cook for another 30 seconds. Then check it again, being careful not to leave it in water too long lest you overcook it. When you are confident that the egg is ready, remove it and allow any excess water to drain out of the slotted spoon. Plate your egg and season it with salt and pepper before serving -- a bit of olive oil will also lend a fruity richness.

More good news: Poached eggs can be made ahead of time and held in an ice bath until they are ready to be served, and then reheated in simmering water for 1 to 2 minutes. 

More: Serve your perfectly poached egg atop toast with kale and sweet potatoes. 

Tell us: How do you like to serve your poached eggs?

Photos by Nicole Franzen; video by Tara Sgroi

Tags: beyond the basics, how to poach an egg, poached egg, video, how to

Comments (20)

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about 1 month ago Horto

Jacques Pepin drops cooked egg into water to remove the vinegar

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2 months ago Ange B

I also would appreciate a video or how to on poaching more than one egg at a time. I can always manage one and then the rest are lost causes.

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3 months ago Terry davis

Poached egg instructions always read as if you're only making one egg, but who ever does that? How do you make a second "tornado" without disturbing the first egg? Or a third?

Stringio

2 months ago Cassandra Brecht

I would keep a bowl of warm water at the ready and do one at a time, slipping them into the bowl to keep them warm. While I'm sure there are some who can pull off a double or triple tornado, I would most likely make a mess of it!

Stringio

3 months ago Antigoni Sander McCloud

I find that if I add too much vinegar it still works, but it "seasons" the egg more that I want it too. If the vinegar is part of the flavor that you are going for with the final product you can for sure add a splash more. You will see some recipes for poached egg dishes that call for red wine vinegar, or rice wine vinegar, as it will give the egg a hint of flavor.

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3 months ago Burnt Offerings

What Simon said - drain off the outer white before tipping the egg into the vortex. Use a slotted spoon.

Amye

3 months ago Borrowed Salt

I use this method regularly but I never measure the vinegar. What is the outcome if I add too much?

Stringio

3 months ago Antigoni Sander McCloud

I find that if I add too much vinegar it still works, but it "seasons" the egg more that I want it too. If the vinegar is part of the flavor that you are going for with the final product you can for sure add a splash more. You will see some recipes for poached egg dishes that call for red wine vinegar, or rice wine vinegar, as it will give the egg a hint of flavor

Stringio

3 months ago Antigoni Sander McCloud

Thanks Camille! The large pot made all the difference! Perfect tear drops!!

Stringio

3 months ago Antigoni Sander McCloud

Great video and poaching tips! I often want to poach 2 eggs, or more at a time. Do you have any tips for this, since you can really only drop on egg into the "tornado" at a time?

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3 months ago Camille Becerra

you could ideally fit 4 eggs comfortably in that amount of water... have them all cracked in individual bowls and drop one after the other, rather quickly so that the water's tornado effect doesn't have time to loose its momentum. :)

Dscn2212

3 months ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I love, love, love, love, love poached eggs! And the tornado tip is great.

http://thesolitarycook...
http://thesolitarycook...
http://thesolitarycook...

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3 months ago Camille Becerra

thanks :)

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3 months ago Pegeen

Great video with gorgeous music (Tharaud). Thank you!

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3 months ago Camille Becerra

thank you!!

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3 months ago Simon Y.

One other thing that can mess with a poached egg: The egg not being fresh, leading to some of the white separating into wispy strands. Using a mesh strainer to drain away the loose white does wonders before you put it into the bowl you're going to use to slip it into the water.

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3 months ago Nancy

I just tried your method Camille. Two perfectly tear-dropped poached eggs! So much more beautiful than my usual ragged (ruffled, if you were feeling generous) ones. :)

Nan

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3 months ago Camille Becerra

right on!!!

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3 months ago S Celin

A poached egg (freshly laid by my hen) with freshly ground pepper and kosher salt on a piece of lightly buttered multigrain toast is perfection.

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3 months ago Camille Becerra

couldn't agree more.