Learning how to poach an egg is one of the most satisfying things you can do in the kitchen. Here’s the method that helped me hone my skills.
Is there anything more beautiful than a perfectly poached egg? A poached egg is the sweet, sensitive softboi cousin of the hard boiled egg. While a hard boiled egg cooks safely inside its armor shell, a poached egg lets its walls down and cooks in a hot water bath. The egg whites gently wrap around the yolk as they slowly solidify, protecting that molten golden center.
A poached egg is a staple with eggs benedict, of course, but they’re also great in spinach salads, on burgers and pizzas, with bacon, on top of pasta, or even, as pictured above, perched on top of a potato pancake with some guacamole.
Poached eggs are simple, but require patience and a willingness to fail at least a little bit some of the time (no one in the world has a 100% track record with poached eggs). There are tons of techniques (swirl the water!) and tips (add salt!) and tricks (no, add vinegar!) and tools and gadgets out there to help you master it, but there’s one method I’ve found that works really well for me, which is what I’m going to share with you today.
If you’ve ever tried and failed to poach an egg you may have experienced one of the following:
- Egg whites spreading out throughout the entire pot turning the water into a cloudy mess.
- Egg white not fully enclosing the yolk.
- Yolk bursting open when the egg hits the bottom of the pan.
- Yolk too soft.
- Yolk too hard.
- Whites too hard.
- Whites too soft.
The solution to all of these problems is what I call the Tiny Pot Method. It’s exactly what it sounds like: use a tiny pot, like this 2 cup butter warming pot, to poach a single egg at a time. This method won’t work so well if you’re trying to make eggs benedict for a crowd, but in terms of familiarizing yourself with the process, it’s is a great place to start.
- The splash of vinegar is optional but helps the egg white coagulate. Too much will make your egg taste vinegary, so you want just a small splash.
- I don’t recommend salting your water before poaching your eggs. The egg whites are so delicate and if the salt hasn’t completely dissolved it can cut the egg white and puncture your poached egg.
- To poach an egg keep the water at a very gentle simmer — it might not even look like anything is happening in the pot. You might see a few tiny bubbles, you might not. You definitely do not want a boil.
- Cracking the egg into a small wire mesh strainer removes the watery portion of the egg white so that all you’re working with the firmer part of the white. Older eggs will be less watery. If you don’t do this step, you’re more likely to end up with cloudy water as the watery egg white spreads out.
- Do not leave the egg sitting in the strainer for longer than 30 seconds. The wire will cut into it and you’ll have a hard time getting the egg out of the strainer. You want it in just long enough to strain out the watery part of the egg white, but then tip the egg into a small bowl.
- To get the egg in the water, swirl the water to create a small whirlpool in the center of the pot. Then dip the lip of the bowl in the water and let the egg slip out. The egg will tumble around the center of the pot because of the whirlpool, which helps ensure that the yolk is centered in the white.
- If the egg sticks to the bottom use a small spatula to gently, gently, gently slip it under the egg to help the egg release from the pot.
- Check the temperature of the water periodically throughout the cook time — you want it to be between 180F and 190F. I find it’s easiest to add the egg at 190F and then reduce the temp as the egg cooks. If you add the egg at 180F, the egg will reduce the temp of the water and it can be hard to get it back up fast enough.
- Use a slotted spoon to gently remove the egg from the pot when it’s done cooking. Rest the spoon with the egg in it on a paper towel to absorb some of the water, and then gently dab the surface of the egg to absorb any water pooling on top. Transfer the cooked egg to a plate.
- Poached eggs can be made up to 5 days in advance. Store them in a shallow, airtight container filled with water in the fridge. Right before serving, give them a quick dip in hot water to bring them back up to temp.
How to Poach an Egg
- 1 egg
- 1½ cups water
- 1 TBSP distilled white vinegar
- Bring a small pot of water with a splash of vinegar to a gentle simmer and use an instant read thermometer to confirm the temperature is between 180-190F.
- Crack the egg into a wire mesh strainer to remove the watery egg whites, then gently transfer the egg into a small bowl.
- Use a small spatula to swirl the water in the pot to create a gentle whirlpool effect.
- Dip the edge of the small bowl with the egg in it into the water and gently tip the egg into the water. The egg will tumble and twist for a moment before settling into the center of the pot.
- Cook for 4-5 minutes, gently swirling the water around the egg (without touching the egg) periodically. If the egg sticks to the bottom of the pot gently slip the edge of a small silicone spatula under the egg to release it.Check the temperature throughout the cook time to maintain a temp between 180-190F.
- When the egg is done cooking, remove it from the water using a slotted spoon. Place the spoon on a paper towel to absorb any water from the bottom of the egg, and dab at the surface of the egg with another paper towel to remove any water pooling on the surface.
- Serve immediately or store in the fridge. To reheat, simply drop into boiling water for 30-60 seconds before serving.
- If not serving immediately, poached eggs can be stored in an airtight container with cold water for up to 5 days. Prior to serving give them a 30-60 second dip in boiling water to bring them back up to temperature.