The Poached Egg : Anatomy of a Disaster

The Poached Egg : Anatomy of a Disaster

I always tell you about the creations I’m happy with, so I thought I would share a bit of incompetence for a change. I cannot, for the life of me, poach an egg.

I have read that you should use super fresh eggs, and I have read that week-old eggs worked better. I have read that you should add vinegar to the water, and I have read that no vinegar was necessary. I have read that the water should be salted, and I have read that salt would ruin it. I have read the water should be barely simmering, and I have read you should bring it to a rolling boil. I have read you should just dump the egg into the water, and I have read that you should gently pour it out from a small cup.

I have tried any and all combinations of these factors, but all my efforts have gotten me were sorry-looking eggs, the white completely separated from the yolk in gorgon-like filaments, reeking of vinegar and/or oversalted, and just generally unappetizing and inedible.

Far far from the perfect, plump, oval, soft egg pillows I was trying to create.

Any advice?

  • Damian

    Hi there Clotilde,

    I know that if you add vinegar to the water, it will cause the outer layer of the egg white to congeal faster. That would probably help the poached egg to keep its shape. But if your water is boiling too vigorously, you run the risk of breaking open your initial firm envelope of egg.

    I’ve always gotten pretty good results with the following procedure recommended by the Culinary Institute of America (which, sinisterly enough, is also known as the CIA):

    Add some vinegar and salt to the water (the CIA recommends 2 T of vinegar and 1 T of salt for each gallon of water), bring it to a gentle boil / simmer (82°C). Crack a really fresh egg into a saucer and gently slide it into the pot. Don’t put too many in the pot at one time. It should take about 3-4 minutes to finish. Lift the egg from the water with a slotted spoon, trim off the ragged whites and voilá! (or voilà?) you should have poached eggs.

    Let me know if it works out.

    Damian

    PS – Love the site! It’s a new favorite of mine.

  • http://www.xanada.com Simon Fodden

    Try creating a gentle whirlpool in the simmering water and slip your egg into the middle of that. It tends to keep the white from dissipating. I agree about vinegar.

    Old eggs are good if you’re hardboiling, because they peel easier. New eggs are better for poaching because the white has less of a tendency to run. You can see the difference if you fry an old and a new egg side by side: the white of the old egg runs all over the place, while the white of the new stays nice and compact.

    Cheers

  • Luisa

    Hi there,

    longtime lurker here! I’ve also tried poaching free-form eggs and have always gotten raggedly-looking results. When I was little, my father used a metal egg-poacher with little cups set in boiling water to poach eggs and I remember them always turning out well, so you might want to check those out (on amazon, perhaps).

    Also, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog – it’s one of the first things I read every morning. The panier biologique sounds fantastic – I’m so envious! I used to live in Paris and might be moving back next year and it’s just such a pleasure to have a little window on Paris through you! Keep up the great work.

  • http://www.joannou.net brian w

    We used to make poached eggs when I was little using a metal cup measure with the handle bent straight up so you could kind of lower it into the water. The cup helps hold the egg in one nice round piece until it cooks a bit, then you can release it into the water without it swirling all over.

  • http://www.otivo.com leanne

    i always make a mess of poaching eggs unless i use a poacher with cups. my favorite is made by williams sonoma and has nonstick egg cups that makes it super easy to remove the gently poached egg AND to clean later! the eggs turn out perfectly shaped for much better presentation. go to http://www.williams-sonoma.com and search for ‘egg poacher’ — not sure if they’ll ship to paris, though.

  • Devon

    I agree the whirpool helps and fresh eggs are best. I find barely simmering water in a wide (versus tall) pan is easiest to work with. I use the cup method and gently slide it in, then sort of fold the water around the egg and its rapidly setting white. I don’t actually want to touch the egg, just encourage it to spin on istelf to help gather itself together. They always start out looking ragged, but by the time they are cooked, they’ve shaped up nicely.

  • Vivien

    Maybe you can try it this way, from what i read… with no poacher, no vinegar, just crack an egg into a pan of boiling water and left to cook.

  • http://www.elise.com/recipes/ elise
  • http://www.povertybarn.com catherine

    I usually have luck with a rolling boil, no salt or no vinegar.

    Love your blog — Paris — I envy you.

  • Niki

    I’ve had the same litany of disaster with my poached eggs and it’s become somewhat of a personal crusade to get it right.
    I’ve found that the water should not be any more vigorous than small bubbles forming on the bottom of the pan with the occasional tiny bubble bursting at the top. A stronger boil than that produces too much movement in the pot and throws the egg whites around like a jellyfish….and the result ends up like your photo! Raggedm tough whites and a yolk that has leaked out and turned hard.
    The barely simmering water encourages the egg to sit there quietly, without flapping around and losing shape. It *looks* like it’s not cooking, so have confidence! I add vinegar and I don’t know if it helps, but I quite like the taste it gives!
    The egg only has to be cook a very short time; enough for the white to solidify, because poached eggs should have runny centres. This is why I heartily disagree with poached eggs made in individual cups or moulds. They aren’t poached eggs! – they are little steamed egg puddings, which tend toward toughness.

  • http://www.cookingwithamy.com Amy

    My advice is also to not boil the water to vigorously and the main thing–don’t disturb the egg once you have put it in the water! Give it a few minutes before you start poking it or trying to get it out of the water. You can trim and re-shape it once it is out the water and cooled, lastly, yours looks a bit overcooked to me, it only takes a few minutes. Good luck!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    All – Thank you, thank you, _thank you_! I knew I could count on you to share your best tips, I’ll be sure to try them and report back…

  • Janice

    Clothilde:

    I just came from the cooking course at eGullet to this site. The eGullet cooking course on eggs suggests first putting the eggs in their shells in gently boiling water for 15-20 seconds (from instructions from Julia Child). Then cracking the eggs and poaching. Haven’t tried it yet, but intend to this evening.

    Love your site (great photos)!
    Jan

  • Shiva

    what i coincedence, am having poached egg now. It turned out pretty good – all i did: bought a microwaveable egg poacher. drop the eggs in it and put it in microwave for 2 minutes – no water, no vinegar, no process. I find it tastes good too and really easy on me

  • http://su-lin.blogspot.com Su-Lin

    The e-gullet link is here:
    http://forums.egullet.com/index.php?showtopic=36989

    I have never poached an egg before. Good luck!

  • http://www.froststreet.net Jeremy

    I agree with everybody who suggests a very gentle boil and swirling the water just prior to dropping in the egg. As for the age of the egg, as an egg gets older the white tends to coagulate toward the center, leaving it runnier on the outside. This will probably make it harder to hold the egg together. It also looks like your egg was a bit overdone; I personally like my poached eggs pretty runny, and only cook them for about 2 minutes. Don’t give up!

  • http://www.angelfire.com/nj/WBZCFMsndymrnngklzmr/newjersey/njtourism.html Jacob Freedman

    Water Prep:

    I have always had mixed luck with making poached eggs; myself, which is not great; considering the fact, that my father grew up on a poultry farm. I would suggest using your smallest saute’ pan. Place 1 to 2 in. (2.2 to 5 cm) deep of cold water, in the pan. Put in a small pinch, of course, kosher salt; then using the next to lowest flame, and heat the water, until the water starts to simmer to a slight rolling boil, at just the edge.

    Eggs:

    Chicken – medium to large (room temperture)
    Duck or Goose (any temperture)

    Crack an egg, like if you were, about to seperate egg whites/yolks. But, instead of flipping the egg yolks, between the two egg shell halves; use that jesture to gently slide the egg, into the water. Maintaining a slight rollling simmer of the water, not a boil and keeping in mind, that the egg white will cook faster; than the yolk, using a small spoon or a basting bulb, gently wash the yolk with the pan water, until the top of the yolk becomes opaque. If you need more, than one just place them in a bowl of ice water and refresh them, by quickly dunking them in very hot water; just before serving.

    P.S. Given the choice, I prefer duck eggs to chicken eggs for poaching; because the texture of the egg white takes on an almost custard like texture.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Janice, Shiva, Su-Lin, Jeremy and Jacob – Thanks so much for the additional advice! With that many great tips, I just _have_ to succeed, right?

  • Valerie

    Hi,
    I love your blog.

    I saw Julia Child poach an egg a while ago on TV, and if my memory is right, I think she pierced the flatter end of the egg with a needle, then boiled it for 10-15 seconds before cracking it open … I think this ensures that the inside develops a thin coat so that the whole thing holds together later.

    Bonne chance!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Valerie – Another great tip I’ll add to the list, thank you so much! Julia usually knows what she’s doing! :)

  • The Schwa Sound

    ” using a small spoon or a basting bulb, gently wash the yolk with the pan water, until the top of the yolk becomes opaque”

    I just want to agree with what Jacob said above. This is how I learned to do it, and it really makes a difference. If I can do it, anyone can. Good luck!

  • Susan

    I had never been able to poach an egg successfully myself until reading of this method, which is now the only way I will do it: For 4 eggs, use an approximately 12 inch pan with about 2-3 inches of water; bring the water to a boil; add vinegar (white distilled; about 3T, but it doesn’t seem to matter too much as I never measure); turn off the heat; add eggs, cracking them as close to the surface of the water as you can — work quickly!; cover the pan; after 3 minutes, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon in the order you added them; drain on a kitchen towel (I just tip them around, still on the spoon, to let excess water drain off). I hope this works for you — it has made such a difference for me.

  • erik

    well, heres my story, and maybe this will help. i think youre all thinking too hard. i went out to eat after a fun night of partying the other morning with my friends, one of which ordered a poached egg. it looked good, so tonight while i was bored, i decided to find out what a poached egg is exactly. i never really cared to ask until now. the first thing i read was small saucepan, with an inch or two of water. i figured the slotted spoon think out myself. i threw the egg in, watched it dance around til it looked like i could pick it up, and wow. it worked. and it was amazing. it looked just as nice as the one at the restaurant the other day, at a tiny fraction of the price. the take home message? just do it, worry about the details after you get the basics down.

  • http://journal.ngaloppo.org Nico

    Hilarious, with pictures, and actually comes up with a solution:

    How to poach an egg: http://www.b3ta.com/features/howtopoachanegg/

  • Jeffrey Tibbs

    It be easy now, man. I done take an egg, break lightly in my hand, lower my hand into the simmering water for some 3 minutes, and voila! Restaurant style poached eggs.

  • Sam

    About a year ago, I tried the “vortex” method, but without the vinegar and salt. It came out looking like eggflower soup. This time, I followed the directions posted at Epicurious.com (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/105504), adding vinegar and salt to the water. I didn’t, however, have a “100% fresh egg.”

    At first, I thought I was going to turn out another pot of eggflower soup because some of the white started rising to the top in that telltale formation. But then I saw, swirling at the bottom of the pot, a beautiful little oval glob. After 3 minutes, I scooped it out. Perfect!

    I’m sure that with a little practice and a very fresh egg, you can turn out a restaurant-quality poached egg using this method.

  • esther

    best round poached egg is in porper egg poacher, BUT how to clean out the sticky eggwhite from stainless steel cups?!!

  • cb

    Vivien–

    Did you READ the post?

    Best–

  • http://5percentcelery.blogspot.com/ Tehra

    I am a chef and I have a fool proof way to poach an egg–I’ve posted it on my blog 5%Celery:

    http://5percentcelery.blogspot.com/2006/11/another-good-reason-to-get-out-of-bed.html

    .:tt:.

  • robyn

    I liked the plastic wrap trick, but don’t heated plastics give off toxic fumes? Maybe you can’t taste it in the egg, but I wonder if eating it is a good idea?

  • Karen

    I’m curious if you have successfully made a poached egg by now.
    I have to say no to extra gadgets. Also, I’ve seen that b3ta site before – hilarious! I used to use the vortex method (not as big of a vortex as in b3ta :) just a gentle swirl to bring the ‘tentacles’ back to the center, but now I don’t, so I can poach more than one egg at a time. I’ve tried with and without vinegar, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I use a bowl and slip the egg in, but that is also not necessary. My key points are: barely simmering water, cold, fresh eggs, and leave them for 4 minutes. Oh, the only problem I have is that I find the eggs sink and stick to the bottom, so I have to gently scrape them off when they are done. Anyone else have that problem? Maybe I should add salt to help them float.

  • Rowan Ellis

    I am not sure if anyone has mentioned this trick yet, but I find that if you boil the water (with a really small amount of vinegar) at a slow boil, slide the egg in, place a lid on the pan and turn off the heat, the egg stays together much better. It usually takes about 4 minutes after the lid is on. Maybe this constitutes “steaming” the egg, but it still sits in water and the result is the same. So maybe the trick is the lid because it limits the movement.

    Hope this helps!

  • Fern

    Hi, i put a tiny bit of salt in the water and boil the water until its rolling, i have the egg already cracked in a bowl, when its rolling i turn the heat off and pour the egg in and put the lid on the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes depending on the size of the egg, i always get lovey runny yolks, and my eggs turn out right most of the time =]

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