Poached eggs, why are they so hard to get right?
Ah, yum, a perfectly poached egg is delicious on a piece of toast, or egg-cellent as eggs Benedict. I enjoy topping off a simple, green salad with a poached egg, allowing the runny yolk to serve as my salad dressing.
First, we need to understand the process of POACHING….
What is Poaching?
Poaching is to cook food gently in liquid, just below the boiling point.
The amount and temperature of the liquid required, depends on the food being poached. Meats and poultry are usually poached in stock. Eggs are usually cooked in lightly salted water. I add just a small amount of vinegar to the water – which we will discuss later. Some chefs believe the vinegar is not necessary and implore a “swirling method,” to their process. More on that later.
Poaching produces a delicate flavor in foods, while imparting some of the liquid’s flavor to the ingredient being poached.
How to Poach Eggs
The process is NOT as simple as cracking open an egg and sliding it into simmering water.
When poaching is done RIGHT, the egg white coagulates and protects the yolk.
The challenge is to keep the white from scattering and to make sure the yolk flows out when cut into.
STEP 1 – Fill a large skillet, preferably a 12-inch, nonstick with a tight fitting lid, with water.
Fill the skillet nearly to the rim. A saucepan can be used; however, for a novice, the skillet will make it easier to slide the eggs into the water and then remove it with a slotted spoon, once cooked.
STEP 2 – Add salt AND vinegar
By adding 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to the water, the eggs will be seasoned as they cook.
The vinegar also helps the proteins in the whites to set more quickly, which reduces the risk of the white scattering all over the pan.
Make sure to only use WHITE vinegar, as dark vinegar (balsamic) might give the eggs an unattractive discoloration.
STEP 3 – Heat the water
Bring the water to a hard boil, on high heat.
The eggs will be poached using residual heat, but you need to start by bringing the water to a good rolling boil. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP.
If the water is merely simmering, there will not be enough heat to cook the eggs properly.
STEP 4 – Crack eggs in small cups
Crack 1 or 2 eggs in a small cup.
If you crack the eggs directly into the water, the first egg will cook faster, than the last egg and it is difficult to monitor which egg went into the pan first.
Because you can hold 2 teacups at one time (one in each hand) you can add the eggs at the same time, guaranteeing the same cooking rate of time.
Step 5 – Add Eggs
Simultaneously, lower lips of cups, or teacup, into the water and tip eggs into the water.
Because you broke the eggs into the more manageable cups, they are easier to lower into the water and slide the eggs out.
This method gives the eggs plenty of room to spread in the skillet.
Some chefs swear by the swirling method. The chef will swirl the boil water, vigorously, dropping the egg into the center of the “whirlpool.”
This is a difficult skill to master and will not produce a perfectly shaped poached egg – there will always be loose ends of the white trailing away from the egg.
Step 6 – Cook covered, off heat
After gently placing the eggs into the pan, immediately cover and slide the skillet off the heat. Poach the eggs until whites are cooked, but the yolks are still runny in the center, 3 1/2 – 6 minutes, depending upon the number of eggs in the skillet, to be cooked.
Removing the skillet from the heat is important because bubbles will cause the eggs to fray and blow apart so it is best to allow residual heat cook the eggs through gently.
Make sure to cover the skillet before moving it; the lid traps heat and ensures the eggs will cook properly. If you do not cover the skillet, the water will cool too quickly.
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Step 7 – Remove eggs
Using a slotted spoon, quickly and carefully remove all the eggs, one at a time, from the skillet…letting the water drain off.
Transfer to a large, paper-toweled lined plate.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, serving immediately.
Using the slotted spoon allows excess water to drain and placing the eggs on paper towels removes any last traces of water.
Popularized by the restaurant Delmonico’s in lower Manhattan, Eggs Benedict is a traditional American brunch or breakfast dish consisting of two halves of an English muffin, each topped with some sort of bacon, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.
Please let me know if you try this 7-step process to perfectly poached eggs.