How to Poach Eggs with Less Stress (& No Anxiety Dreams)

June 30, 2016

There are a few egg-poaching tips almost all experts abide by...

  1. Use fresh eggs (their membranes are stronger and less likely to break, according to Alton Brown and, in J. Kenji López-Alt's words, they have tighter whites and yolks that better hold their shape as they cook).
  2. Don't crack your egg directly into the water. Instead, break them first into bowl or a strainer, then pour or lower this vessel into the water for the most gentle transition possible.

...but beyond that, it's a basic technique fraught with disagreement (and superstition)—just check out the comments on Amanda's "control freak method".

Should the eggs be strained? Is a non-stick pan critical? And how big should it be? Is the addition of vinegar to the water necessary to help the whites coagulate? How hot should the water be? Should you make a whirlpool? How vigorous should the whirlpool be? How many seconds should you count—aloud—between when you stop actively whirlpooling and when the egg is lowered in? What is up and what is down!? Does God exist!?

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In Plenty More, Yotam Ottolenghi not only makes poaching an egg sound easy, he also lays out a technique that I'd never come across before—one that seems to fly in the face of some general wisdom (and that works—well!).

Here's how Ottolenghi tells us to poach eggs for his Fried Upma (a semolina porridge) on page 198:

Fill a shallow saucepan with enough water for a whole egg to cook in. Add the vinegar [1 tablespoon white wine vinegar] and bring to a rapid boil.

First note: A rapid boil!? If you're going to bring the water to a boil at all, most recipes will instruct you to then reduce it to a gentle simmer before adding the egg. Kenji adds the eggs at 180° F, when the water is "quivering but not quite simmering yet," whereas Alton Brown waits until 190° F. Ottolenghi, though? He's playing with fire.

To poach each egg, carefully break it into a cup, then gently pour it into the boiling water.

Second note: Yotam does not instruct that the egg be strained, which Kenji calls the one poached egg "trick" that "really really works"—he doesn't just crack the egg into a strainer, he swirls the egg around to proactively release any excess whites that will become runaway wisps once poached. Yotam, on the other hand, does not strain the egg or obsess over the ideal whirlpool velocity.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and set it aside. After about 4 minutes the egg should be poached to perfection.

Third note: Remove the pan from the heat?! And leave it uncovered? With the egg just sitting there? It seems crazy when you consider that Kenji suggests you gently flip the eggs as they poach to ensure even cooking, and that Alton Brown, in this Food Network video, emphasizes the importance of keeping the water temperature at 190° F.*

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Top Comment:
“I abandoned Alton Brown as a food resource about a decade ago when I realized that a lot of what he’s saying is simply being said to create content for his show, not actually helpful information. Sure, the science is all good but beyond that he’s fluff. ”
— mikedalena

And even recipes that do call for the pan to be removed from the heat as soon as the eggs are added—like on Framed Cooks and What's Cooking America—call for the pan to be covered, which helps retain heat. Is it because Ottolenghi's water is to a rapid boil (i.e. it's hotter to begin with) that he does not have to cover the pan? Or create a vortex? Or flip the eggs to ensure even cooking?

I find removing the pan from the heat once the eggs are in there to be reassuring: You can closely monitor their movement and their doneness. It's a calmer method, one that allows you to take a step back and let residual heat take its course. After four minutes, you simply use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to a warm water bath while you poach the rest of the gang.

And when I tried Ottolenghi's technique (though, I admit it: I strained my egg and lowered, not poured—a nervous cook's prerogative!), it worked perfectly, on the first try.

* Note: What's really strange is that while Alton Brown's video tells you to keep the pan on the heat, the words that accompany it on the same page instruct: "Turn off the heat, cover the pan and set your timer for 5 minutes." Which is it, Alton?)

How would you advise someone to poach an egg for the very first time? Tell us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Sarah Jampel

Written by: Sarah Jampel

A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.


mikedalena June 5, 2019
I abandoned Alton Brown as a food resource about a decade ago when I realized that a lot of what he’s saying is simply being said to create content for his show, not actually helpful information. Sure, the science is all good but beyond that he’s fluff.
Alan S. May 18, 2019
I've tried all the methods suggested and find the simplest the best. I often have to poach eight eggs at a time in one pan for family breakfasts. Use the freshest eggs you can find. Use a large saute pan about 4" deep. Never under any circumstances add vinegar to the water. It can always be tasted and felt on the teeth and, there's no need for it. Have a timer set for four minutes handy. Break the eggs directly into simmering water. After about the third egg start the timer and keep adding eggs. No need to fuss with little bowls. Don't let it boil. Make a large, thick pad of paper towels and have a slotted spoon handy. When the timer goes, lift eggs out one at a time, drain and dry slightly on the towel and slip the eggs onto warm buttered toast on hot plates. Organization. Fast work. Perfect, barely cooked eggs. Couldn't be easier.
Janine H. May 18, 2019
NEVER CRITICIZE Alton Brown! His recipes and techniques have never failed me. Perhaps he meant to say “leave the pan on the burner. Turn burner off, cover and set the timer.” Yes, that’s what he meant, I’m sure of it.
Roger B. January 18, 2018
Don’t be afraid of poaching. Regardless of the method you choose or whether you add vinigar or you forgot, which is often the case under pressure, you’ll be able to trim the eggs of their odd edges and whispy hairs after they are poached. Follow your bliss!
Toddie April 26, 2017
I find Julia Child's method to be foolproof and I use it constantly. First, prick a hole into the shell of an egg at the large end of an egg. Second, Place the whole egg (still in the shell) in the boiling water for exactly 10 seconds. Remove the egg from the water, and lower the heat to bring the water to a simmer. Then, crack the egg into gently simmering water.
Nirvana May 18, 2019
I've had the best results with this method too
prettyPeas July 31, 2016
I'm a sunny side up woman myself, but these techniques sound great. Ottolenghi makes sense--starting at a boil sets the outside as much a possible immediately, then removing removes the mechanical action that can fragment the outside (that's why everyone else insists on below a boil, but I doubt the temp gets down to even 190 after 4 minutes). I'm not a huge fan of vinegar-tasting eggs, so I'll eventually try Ottolenghi's recipe without. I'm also intrigued by the microwave mug method. Many of my high school mornings were fueled by microwave McMuffin style eggs.
sammy July 9, 2016
I would have been super skeptical of Ottolenghi's method had you not mentioned that it worked for you. So I tried it... and it worked perfectly! I've even gone rogue and cracked directly into the boiling water (gasp) and the whole thing still held together beautifully. Color me impressed. Should have known better than to doubt Ottolenghi.

FYI, my eggs are at refrigerator temp and I think the 4min time is pretty accurate for a runny yolk lover. I like my yolks a little more gelled so I leave mine in for about 5min.
Linda July 3, 2016
I recently tried the muffin pan in the oven method. Simplest method ever. Oven: 350º. Put a tablespoon of water in each muffin cup. Add 1 egg to each muffin cup. Bake 13-15 minutes, until done. Next time I do this I'm going to try using my muffin top pan. It's the same size as an English muffin, so perfect for Eggs Benedict. :)
Nancy J. July 8, 2016
I love this method. It is so easy and you can feed a crowd at the same time!
catalinalacruz June 30, 2016
If this article teaches us anything, it is that there is no one way to poach eggs. Read what Richard Olney says about it in "Simple French Food": "There is a puzzling cluster of rules surrounding the poaching of an egg. ... The freshness is of primordial importance. ... The other rules one may take or leave -- I prefer to leave them. Water kept at a simmer toughens the underside of the egg and encourages its sticking to the bottom of the pan. Vinegar flavors the egg; I sometimes add salt and sometimes not, and cannot see that it affects in any way the venture; breaking an egg first into a saucer only encourages the spreading of an unfresh white, dirties a dish, and is a waste of time... the whirlpool method may be useful in rescuing tired old eggs, but tired old eggs should really be regulated to pastry-making or to the garbage can."

With his words in mind, I bring water to a boil, turn off the heat, gently break room temperature eggs directly into the water, cover the pan, and wait 2 to 3 minutes. I have the good fortune of having my own chickens, and only poach eggs laid the same day. Even a one day old egg starts to spread out in the poaching water.
Author Comment
Sarah J. June 30, 2016
Thanks for sharing that quote!
Taylor June 30, 2016
I’ve found that the easiest way to poach an egg is to use a Smartbowl. The Smartbowl System is a set of microwave safe glass bowls that allows you to cook food in the microwave at a much faster rate. To poach an egg in a Smartbowl, all you have to do is add half a cup of water, crack an egg into the water, seal the lid on and pop it in the microwave for 1 minute. Prior to having a Smartbowl, I never had poached eggs unless I was at a restaurant because I messed it up every time I tried to do it with myself. Now that I have a Smartbowl I have poached eggs for lunch practically everyday.
April M. June 30, 2016
I have found that the absolute most fool proof way to poach an egg is to microwave it. I know...???. Into a mug or tea cup of hot water micro'ed for aprox 1 min add splash of vinegar and lower an cracked into a large spoon or small cup in to the water. Pop back in the micro for about another 45 sec. Eggs straight from the fridge. Easiest way to prepare eggs period.
April M. June 30, 2016
"A cracked egg" Sorry.
HalfPint July 1, 2016
Ever since I read about this on The Kitchn website, it's my preferred method for poaching an egg.
Joanne D. June 30, 2016
One thing not mentioned that ought to be considered is whether the egg is refrigerated or room temp.
Coco E. June 30, 2016
Ottolenghi is right, and so id Kenji. Rapidly boiling water and vinegar help set the whites quickly and prevents it from fusing to the bottom of the pan. Using only residual heat to cook the inside of the egg ensures that the yolk thickens but stays runny, and that the whites stay tender. Straining the eggs first will save you the hassle of rinsing off the stray bits of white and keep the water clearer for if you want to do multiple batches. I think what Alton meant was to keep the eggs on the heat source, but turn off the heat switch, because the one flaw in Ottolenghi's method is the fact that it doesn't consider the ability of the pan to retain heat (hot water in a heavy-bottomed pan will cool much slower than a flimsier one), nor does it account for the surface you set it on after you remove it from the heat source (setting it on a trivet will help it cool slower as air and wood are poor conductors of heat, whereas if you set it on a cold marble counter top, the material will suck much more heat out from the pan of water. Alton's method allows the water temperature to cool at a slower and more stable rate, which he enhances by instructing the reader to cover the pan. In the end, these are all good tips which home cooks should try out and fiddle with to find the best fit for their own kitchen.