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Egg Poaching for a Crowd: We Tested the Tips

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Poaching a single egg is an accomplishment worthy of praise. I didn't poach my first egg until I had: lived for at least two decades on this earth, wasted a half-dozen or so, shed many a tear. Some of my colleagues at Food52 have admitted that it's a skill that still eludes them (or, for those who have yet to even try, so they assume).

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

But once you've poached an egg (perhaps via the "control-freak method" à la Amanda Hesser or the more freewheeling Ottolenghi technique), you might be wondering how to show off to all of your friends poach a lot at once, maybe for a brunch party with eggs Benedict or because it momentarily slipped your mind that are so many easier ways to serve eggs to a crowd... (see below as evidence).

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Regardless of why you need to poach a lot of eggs, you'll find plenty of tips for cooking multiple eggs at once (or individual eggs in record time!) on the web. So we decided to put these methods to the test. Once and for all!

And what we found was surprising, erring on the side of disappointing: The most widely-circulated tip—poach 12 eggs at once... in the oven... in a muffin tin...—did not work. (The approach that did work? That can be credited to J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats—less of a surprise there!)

Below, we'll break down what we tried and how it went. You can also skip straight to the success story if you'd like a happy ending.

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What did not work:

What worked:

Kenji's tip—poaching eggs in a steamer basket—is the only one I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Kenji's tip—poaching eggs in a steamer basket—is the only one I can wholeheartedly recommend. Photo by James Ransom

Poaching eggs in a muffin tin

This "kitchen hack" has made the rounds: Food & Wine called it "The Insanely Easy Way to Poach a Dozen Eggs at Once"; The Kitchn declared its "Verdict: This is a mind-blowing tip!"; and Lifehacker republicized the content ("With this technique you can make enough eggs to easily serve at a brunch or other event.")

Here, supposedly, is how:

  1. Fill muffin cups with about 1 tablespoon of water.
  2. Crack an egg into each one.
  3. Bake at 350° F for 8 to 10 minutes (The Kitchn recommends anywhere from 11 to 15).

Plus, the following visual proof!

But after three rounds of testing, I'm honestly not sure how the team over at F&W got the eggs to look so appetizing in the video. Because the eggs I made using this method (three times!) were—and I'm not going to mince words here—revolting. (In the Today Show segment that features this tip, the eggs themselves are not a focal point. The skeptic in me knows why.)

For one thing, it's really hard to tell when the eggs are finished; I checked them every minute after 8 minutes yet couldn't bring myself to pull them before 14, as the whites remained gunky and only half-opaque. Part of the difficulty is that the water you pour into each cup rises to the surface of the egg, making it appear liquidy even as it hard-cooks.

Disclaimer for all concerned parties: There are a lot of egg pictures in this post, and some are wholly unappetizing. Be glad, at least, that you can't smell through the computer screen... yet.

Left: Maybe these will be okay after all... ; Right: All hopes dashed (a.k.a. hard-boiled).

Second, the yolk is bare-breasted to the harsh heat of the oven. Even if the protected inside were to remain somewhat soft (which it did not), the outside layer puckers and dries.

And finally, it's about as hard as a game of Operation to dislodge the eggs from their muffin cradles without completely destroying them. PureWow recommends spraying the non-stick muffin pan with cooking oil, but it made me nervous to add an oil, however "neutral-flavored," to such a pure-tasting food.

In the end, I had rubbery whites with the texture of a bouncy ball; solidly chalky yolks; and 12 eggs in various pieces that I wasn't quite sure what to do with (egg salad: yes; eggs Benedict: no way).

Two more tries, two more failures. (The picture on the right shows the tin that cooked at 250° F.)

I also tried lowering the temperature and baking the eggs at 250° F for 20 minutes, hoping that would remedy the problem. The low-temp eggs were softer and more jiggly, closer to poached eggs in texture—yet just as difficult (if not more so) to remove from the tin. I injured most in the process. The oven also doesn't cook very evenly (maybe a convection setting would fix this issue?), which meant that some eggs were more done than others.

The editors at PureWow said that in "terms of taste and texture, we couldn’t tell the difference" between muffin tin eggs and poached eggs. For me, I'm not sure I'd be mistake the muffin-egg as a poached egg even if it bounced off my face.

Muffin-egg (left) versus microwave egg (right).
Muffin-egg (left) versus microwave egg (right).

In the end: What's popular is not always right; and what's right (poaching eggs in simmering liquid, as the egg gods intended) is not always popular.

Poaching multiple eggs in the same shallow pan, willy-nilly

For instructions on how to do the obvious—poach as normal, but add in more than one egg—I turned to a Hotline thread on the same subject. Queen of Spoons answered with such confidence that I was sure I would be able to follow her directions:

Fill a large nonstick skillet (which I have very lightly oiled) with cool water, only enough to cover the eggs by about an inch. Bring to steady simmer and add vinegar. Crack each egg into a small dish and slide it into the water, pouring towards the outside edge of the pan. I do six.

Excuse me while I interrupt: Six (!!) eggs at the same time! A true feat.

As soon as the whites begin to firm up, I carefully slide a slotted spoon under them to make sure they are not sticking to the pan. When whites are fully opaque, but yolks still seem liquid-y, remove to paper towels sitting on a cooling rack. (The thing I hate most about poached eggs is when they haven't been drained properly and the water makes everything soggy.) Then do the next round and repeat.

They can be held for a bit here and if needed briefly returned to water to warm before service.

I have confidence that this technique really does work if you're a master egg-poacher, which I am not. As a measly intermediate poacher, I found it very intimidating to add six eggs to a pot of just-hot-enough-but-not-too-hot water, then nudge them at the precise right moment of readiness and remove them at the precise right moment of doneness. In my mind, it was a lot like parenting. Maybe not exactly—but it was a great amount of responsibility, and I didn't end up getting it right. Two eggs were casualties to the water.

I'd rather wake up three hours earlier and poach each egg one by one than choose to undertake this challenge before the arrival of brunch guests.

Savory Ris-Oat-to with Poached Egg
Savory Ris-Oat-to with Poached Egg

Poaching an egg in the microwave

While this method produces one egg rather than a big batch, it does so at the speed of light microwaves, which means you could zap egg after egg (holding the finished ones in a bath of cool water) until your guests arrive. Almost no clean-up. Almost no stress!

"For Perfectly Poached Eggs," the Bon Appétit headline reads, "the Microwave is Your Friend." They're fast, hands-off poached eggs—and "perfect" ones, too!

The method is simple:

  1. Fill a 1-cup microwaveable bowl or cup with 1/2 cup water.
  2. Crack in an egg.
  3. Cover with a plate and microwave on high for about 1 minute, or until the white is set but the yolk is still runny.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to a plate.
Does this make you as uncomfortable as it makes me?
Does this make you as uncomfortable as it makes me?

Microwaving the egg worked—it's true. But perfectly? I wouldn't say so. The whites were a little snotty, the yolk a bit bug-eyed. The whole thing was as fragile as a water balloon and slid across my plate leaving a snail-like trail.

Would I make this for myself in a desperate time? Yes. Would I ask guests to eat it (and would I spend many minutes in front of the microwave so that I had enough to serve to the masses)? No.

Poaching multiple eggs in a steamer basket

The winning method of poaching eggs for a crowd comes from Kenji of Serious Eats who, ingeniously, uses a collapsible steamer basket.

This actually works. That's my hand in there as proof!
This actually works. That's my hand in there as proof! Photo by James Ransom

Here's how the winner does it:

  1. Strain eggs (to do away with excess, runaway whites) through a fine mesh sieve and add them to a large bowl. (Kenji does six eggs at a time but imagines that, with more experience and a bigger pot, even more might fit.)
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water almost to a boil. Place a collapsible steamer basket inside, making sure there's enough water so that the eggs will be submerged.
  3. When bubbles are just starting to appear in the pot, gently tip the eggs out of the bowl and into the submerged steamer basket. Try your best to plop the eggs in one at a time so that you can space them out evenly.
  4. Once the whites have set just a bit (about 15 seconds, says Kenji), you can start to flip them with a spoon or spatula—gingerly. "The more the eggs get flipped and rotated, the better their finished shape will be." I was too nervous to flip my eggs, which meant they came out a bit flatter than typical poached eggs (more disc than sphere).
  5. When the eggs are finished—this method allows you to monitor them very closely!—simply lift the steamer basket out of the water, allow it to drain, and transfer the eggs to a towel-lined plate.
Four very pretty poached eggs, straight from the steamer basket.
Four very pretty poached eggs, straight from the steamer basket.

Once you've got a pile of poached eggs, you can hold them for up to five days: Let the poached eggs chill out in a bowl cool water as you cook as many as you need. Then place them in plastic containers, cover with more cool water, and store in the fridge. To reheat, Kenji suggests letting the eggs sit in very hot tap water for about 2 minutes, then re-blotting with a paper towel.

If you don't need to store the eggs for an extended period of time and are planning to serve them, say, later in the hour, you could also try slightly under-poaching the eggs, then storing them in a covered bowl of very hot water until it's time to eat.

Farro Risotto with Sausage, Mushroom, Peas, and a Poached Egg
Farro Risotto with Sausage, Mushroom, Peas, and a Poached Egg

Or skip all of this and buy a machine that poaches eggs for you! It's 2016: Machines do it all. And if even that sounds overwhelming, might I remind you of sheet-pan eggs?

What's the most annoying dish to make for a crowd? Tell us in the comments below!