Poach

Have We Been Making Poached Eggs All Wrong?

Cap the vinegar & grab a slotted spoon.

November 22, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

I’ve been poaching eggs at least once, if not four or five times, a week for decades. That’s how I know there’s way too much overthinking, and just plain silly thinking, around poaching eggs. They are the easiest (and best) eggs you can make!

An old boyfriend taught me how to make poached eggs. Rather, I watched him do it. He’d crack and ease the eggs one by one into a shallow pan of simmering water, place the lid on the pan, turn off the heat, push toast in the toaster, and go shave. He’d stroll back into the kitchen clean-shaven, retrieve the toast, and plop the eggs on top. Nothing to it—and a nice memory.

I do it the same way, 50 years later—only I sip my coffee and listen to NPR instead of shaving.

I know may be thinking that I forgot to mention putting white vinegar in the pot of water to firm up the egg whites, or custard cups, or salting the water, or swirling the water to wrap the whites around the yolks, or even pre-straining the eggs to remove the thin watery portion of the whites to prevent that stringy mess in the water.

I do none of these things—not because I’m lazy, but because I’m fussy as hell about my poached eggs. And I’m also rather efficient. I’ve tried and discarded all of the poached egg “improvements,” “hacks,” “tips,” and whatever. And yet, my eggs are trim and shapely and perfectly cooked, with tender silky whites and yolks as runny (or firm) as you like them.

How To Poach Eggs, Once And For All

I poach eggs cold, right from the fridge. Practice poaching two to four eggs at a time and you’ll gain confidence enough to handle a dozen! If you do not feel confident about cracking and slipping eggs into the pan quickly, break each one into a ramekin before you start. Then simply slide eggs from the ramekins into the water one or even two at a time.

To poach eggs, start by heating a skillet with about 1-1/2 inches of water until it's simmering gently. One by one, working close to the water rather from a height, either crack and slip each egg into the water or slip them in from ramekins. Add eggs starting at 12 o’clock and working clockwise around the pan so you can identify and remove the first egg first and the second egg second, etc. When all of the eggs are all in, turn off the heat and cover the pan. You can start toasting English muffins or a hearty piece of sourdough bread during this time, if you didn’t start it earlier.

Poached eggs should take 3-5 minutes to cook, depending on how you like them and on how many eggs are in the pan. If you prefer a runny yolk, take them out of the water after just a few minutes. Slip the slotted spoon under the first egg and lift it slightly. Assuming it looks done to your liking—if not, cover the pan and wait a little longer—trim any raggedy edges hanging over the spoon by pressing the edge of the spoon again the side of the skillet, or by running a knife around the edges of the spoon.

Nestle the spoon in the folded dish towel or paper towel, tilting it as necessary to blot excess liquid from the egg before depositing it on toast or a plate. Let guests salt and pepper their own eggs at the table. If anyone misses vinegar, let them drizzle some over their eggs now, along with hollandaise sauce or a drizzle of ketchup—when it won’t do any harm! Bon appétit.

How Not To Poach Eggs

Vinegar in the water: Never. Vinegar firms up the whites, but the viscous portion of the whites are going to firm up anyway (and the runny portion is still going to be stringy). The whites always cook faster than the yolks. Firming the whites faster with vinegar simply overcooks them before the yolks are ready. Whites cooked in vinegary water will appear opaque rather than shiny, and they are tough and chalky rather than tender and silky. This is one reason I rarely order poached eggs in restaurants—I can spot an egg cooked in vinegar water immediately (or at least before I take a bite).

Salt in the water: Salted water also seems to make the eggs whites slightly chalky. People should salt their eggs at the table!

Swirling the water: This is supposed to wrap the yolks in the whites to make a lovely shape. But what this means is that you have to cook one egg at a time. If you’re cooking for a crowd, you have to pre-cook and reheat them. Who needs that? Plus, swirling doesn’t improve the shape of the poached egg either. The firmer portion of the egg whites stay with the yolks whether or not you swirl, and the runny ones will still float around.

Straining the raw eggs to remove the thin runny whites: You must be kidding. An extra step like this doesn’t hurt anything—unlike the addition of vinegar or salt to the water—but it’s unnecessary and very likely to dissuade you from making poached eggs on a regular (much less every-day) basis because, well, it’s an extra step! I let the runny part of the egg whites float around in the pan while the more viscous part naturally forms a lovely oval around the yolk. When the eggs are done, I trim the raggedy whites easily between the edge of the slotted spoon and the sides of the pan as I remove each egg from the water. Like I said, my poached eggs are quite shapely, thank you.

Tool for Poaching Eggs

A frying pan or skillet with a lid. It should be deep enough to hold 1 1/2-2 inches of water. (Actually, my skillet only holds only 1-1 1/4 inches of water, and it works perfectly, even though I have to set the lid slightly ajar to prevent the water from flowing over the pan when I cover it.) An 8” pan is fine for two to four eggs and a 12-14" pan works for up to 12 eggs.

A large slotted spoon: The bowl of my spoon is four inches long and a generous 2 1/2-inches wide. This dimension makes it easy to trim raggedly whites between the edge of the spoon and sides of the skillet as you lift the egg from the hot water.

A clean dish towel or folded paper towel: This is essential to blot excess water from the eggs. The second reason I often shun poached eggs in restaurants is that they always come in a pool of hot water.

Good eggs: The fresher, the better, for both shape and flavor. (If eggs are less than great, poaching may not be the best choice for them anyway.) Plus, good-quality eggs from a small, local farm will have an intensely orange yolk, versus pale yellow.


Poached Egg Recipes

Avocado Toast Eggs Benedict

If you’re poaching eggs, there’s a good chance it’s because you want to make Eggs Benedict for breakfast or brunch. If that’s true (and I bet it is), try this two-for-one special, which marries the classic eg dish with the ever-popular ’cado toast so you never have to choose between the two again.

Poached Eggs with Miso–Browned Butter Hollandaise

It doesn’t take much to make Eggs Benedict feel like an entirely new dish. In this case, all we’ve done is added a couple of tablespoons of miso paste and browned butter to the blender hollandaise for an umami-packed brunch dish.

Mackerel & Poached Egg on Toast

If you can find mackerel, particularly mackerel packed in whole grain mustard, stock up. This prized tinned fish will instantly upgrade old favorites like Eggs Benedict.

Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg and Lemon-Mustard Sauce

Every year, we ask ourselves the same question—how can we make roasted asparagus more interesting? The answer. Topping a bunch of asparagus with poached egg will not only impress any brunch guests that you’re hosting, but the runny yolk serves as the easiest-ever sauce.

Kale & Borlotti Bean Soup with Poached Eggs

A cozy soup with kale and beans cooked in a hot, clear broth is the perfect cure for winter blues. When you cut through the yolk, the golden liquid sinks into the vegetables, lending an almost creamy feel to the soup,” writes recipe developer Meike Peters.

How do you poach your eggs? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • judy
    judy
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    Danny Brown
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).

69 Comments

judy November 23, 2021
WEll, I will continue to use vinegar. I LIKE the flavor that vinegar imparts to the poached egg. Mine always seem to be coked to perfection. My to my perfection, I guess. Nicely fried up whites, fry few strings and a nice runny yolk. Takes about the same amount of time as toasting my toast to perfection to put the egg on.....
 
kenpatch7 March 19, 2021
I have never found a clearer explanation of what not to do to get better poached eggs every time. Thank you
 
Kathy A. October 4, 2020
Why is it when I do this some of the whites sit at the bottom of my pan so afterwards I have to scrub my pan. Eggs came out great though.
 
Ace April 29, 2020
Decades ago I purchased an egg poacher, a slotted Teflon disk that fits into a pan, water comes to a boil, 3-5 minutes ..
 
Danny B. April 29, 2020
I presser cook my hard boiled eggs for 2 minutes then cool them in ice water
 
Julio R. March 28, 2020
Great video, A+++++!
 
J R. December 15, 2019
I came to essentially the same conclusions as Ms. Medrich long ago as well. Eggs are my favorite food and poached is my favorite way to prepare them. I would only stress how important it is to have fresh eggs. We have hens and there is nothing better than poaching an egg that was laid the day before. Our reds lay the biggest eggs with the best albumen. Our Americaunas' albumen tends to be a bit runny even fresh. I do strain those for poaching but they excel for boiling. If you don't have your own hens find a source for farm fresh eggs. You will not be disappointed.
 
Jill September 14, 2019
FINALLY!! I have been poaching eggs this way my entire life; almost 58 years, and I cannot tell you how many times I've been schooled that I'm doing it wrong and must add vinegar. I can't count the times I've had poached eggs in restaurants where the egg tasted like it had been pickled. I'm sure your eggs are perfect every time.
 
MrsLennon September 6, 2019
I tried your technique immediately after reading this article and I am so excited and proud to report my poached eggs came out perfectly! I used an 8” pan and filled water almost to the top leaving enough room for the lid and followed your instructions (timed mine for about 4 minutes using 2 eggs). Perfectly poached eggs. I couldn’t believe it. I fed them to my husband and he was so delighted. I tried again and made 2 more for myself and can’t tell you how much I wish to have come across this article years ago. So many failed attempts with complicated instructions left me resigned to only eating them in restaurants. Keep it simple is the message. An elegant egg is the result and indeed how simple. Finally. Thank you!
 
David G. September 13, 2019
Older eggs more then a few weeks old may not work as well. Here's an added trick I learned from Julia Childs ... if the eggs are older, use the slotted spoon to lower them completely into boilding water for 10 seconds, then let them cool a bit and crack them into the simmering water. Perfect in every way.
 
pamela August 31, 2019
not interested in how "you" like your eggs. What is the standard in classical cooking of eggs? egg white is a delicate protein.. you do NOT start a sunny side up on high to get a crispy edge. very disappointed in this presentation.
 
FrugalCat August 27, 2019
Now I feel silly for using a silicone egg poaching "pod".
 
Helen August 25, 2019
I loved this video and article. Such terrific tips and tricks. Thank you.
 
Ace August 25, 2019
Next steps: place the poached egg on an artichoke bottom, tablespoon of Hollandaise, touch of white pepper - called eggs Sardou , lovely with a flute of blanc de noir - great way to start the day
 
Ahnna W. August 25, 2019
I loved this article and the great tips for easily making poached eggs - I will now make them more often! I was taught to add vinegar as well as leave the eggs in boiling water (heat on) to cook. There was always a hint of vinegar!
 
Umbare K. May 19, 2019
The thing with patting eggs to dry them is all well and good, but this is how I do it. I place a double thickness of paper towel on a plate. I place the cooked eggs along one edge of the towel which removes the water from the bottom. But the base of the cooked egg is not so much of a problem if you use a slotted spoon, it's the top. So what I do is take hold of the two corners of the paper towel on the edge the eggs are on lift and gently let the eggs flip over onto their topsides which removes all the water without patting and risking breaking the yolk if cooked soft. To get them onto the muffin, or toast, or whatever you're having them on simply flip them back onto the slotted spoon and hey presto, job done! I've never yet in decades of poaching eggs damaged even the softest of yolks. I have a large (four and a half inches across) 'slotted' spoon with an almost flat bowl made of stainless steel wire mesh so I can deal with two eggs at once with this method, but not if they're ostrich eggs.
 
Stephanie May 18, 2019
I NEVER use vinegar. It makes them rubbery and have a stringy look and aftertaste. I also use a frying pan and they turn out great every time! Going to try this technique to see if makes any difference. Great article.
 
Julius May 3, 2019
I had come to the conclusion that vinegar doesn't do much towards preventing whispyness of the white or keeping it together with the yokes myself. I noted the statement about vinegar accelerating the setting of the white and decided to try an experiment. I separated an egg white into a cup and poured neat vinegar on. After 10 minutes there wasn't any change. The white was still clear and raw. After an hour there was a very little opaque whiteness over the portion of white that was originally clinging to the yoke, but otherwise the white was still clear and raw. So I think it is the case that vinegar does nothing except affect taste and appearance. I like the finished article shiny too and add much less than a teaspoon of vinegar, about a quarter in fact. Thank you Alice for taking the time to write this article.
 
Mark S. April 26, 2019
brilliant - i do a variation thats worked for decades - drop the eggs in once there is a small bubbling on the bottom of the pan - keep heat on full until froth - then turn off element and uncover pan .. best way to clean pan is soaking with bleach -- the white goes all rubbery
 
Dawn M. April 8, 2019
Yes!!!I am a cook in a restaurant and we make a lot of poached eggs and Eggs Benedict and I have never poached them in anything but water!
 
Traci S. January 6, 2019
Thank you! Why do. He’d make it so complicated??? And why do they never put the lid on the pan! Turns something simple into a nightmare impossibility!! I use your method except I do not turn the heat off. I’ll have to try that....