How To Make The Perfect Poached Egg And Never End Up With A Sloppy Mess Again (PHOTOS)

10/24/2013 09:13 am ET | Updated Apr 29, 2014
  • Kristen Aiken Executive Food & Lifestyle Editor, The Huffington Post
Flickr: Deannster

Listen. Poached eggs are delicious, and I doubt you need to be convinced of that. What you do need to be convinced of, however, is that poaching eggs is easy. Before you start throwing things at your screen, just hear us out.

For some reason, many home cooks seem to be paralyzed by a fear of poaching eggs. It's understandable: There are a LOT of rules involved. But if you watch someone poach an egg, all they're essentially doing is filling a pot with water, turning on the heat, putting some cracked eggs in a pan for a few short minutes, and then eating them. Easy, right?

If you want poached eggs of greatness rather than chewed-up balls of rubber, you just need to be thinking about a few rules while you're doing all that. But don't worry, it only requires basic skills like "paying attention," "observing," "waiting," and maybe even "stirring." THAT'S NOT SO HARD. Unless you're a total anarchist, you can poach an egg.

Here's what the difference between right and wrong looks like:

eggs

Yes, there are egg-poaching machines, egg-poaching rings, egg-poaching pouches, and probably egg-poaching American Girl Dolls. But you don't need them. Below are the tricks I learned in culinary school that'll give you the quintessential poached egg -- silky smooth and pillowy soft, with perfectly round whites surrounding velvety yolks. And you'll put them on everything.

Now let's get down to business. Here are the mistakes you might be making with your poached eggs.

Mistake #1: Your Water Isn't The Right Temperature. It Should Look Like This:

If your water is too cold and looks like the Dead Sea, the yolks will separate from the whites. Conversely, if your water is too hot and boiling violently, the eggs will explode (think about it: boiling them is equivalent to shaking them up with a jar of marbles). Here's what you're trying to avoid:

whites

Find that perfect bubble level, and keep it just right there throughout the cooking process.

Mistake #2: You're Adding Salt To The Water
You're aiming to make poached eggs with a silky-smooth, cloud-like texture, so why would you add smashed-up rocks to your water? Adding salt to your poaching liquid breaks up the eggs whites and essentially ruins everything.

Mistake #3: You're Not Swirling A Whirlpool

Once you've achieved your desired water temperature, and BEFORE you add your eggs, slowly swirl the water with a long-handled spoon to create a gentle whirlpool effect. This helps the egg whites tuck into a perfectly round ball, preventing them from spreading through the water (and also eliminating the need to trim your egg whites later). Work quickly to put the eggs in the water while the water is still swirling, then stop.

Mistake #4: You're Treating Your Eggs Like Greg Lougainis
This is not the high dive. Your eggs need to be gently introduced to the poaching liquid, not plopped into it. To do this, crack each of your eggs into individual containers -- ramekins, measuring cups, small drinking glasses, whatever -- and one at a time, slowly lower the rim into the water and carefully slide the egg in. Easy does it. Just like this:

Mistake #5: You're Crowding The Eggs
Give your eggs the freedom to be their best selves. Make sure your pan is filled with at least 3 inches of water, and don't put too many eggs in the pan at once. Never let them touch one another. If it helps, think of egg-poaching as a strictly chaperoned middle school dance. NO TOUCHING.

Mistake #6: You're Sinking Them Like The Titanic

Don't give your eggs the Jack Dawson treatment. It's hot down there at the bottom! (And worse, they will probably stick.) Gently cradle each egg with your long-handled spoon, lifting it from the bottom of the pan and keeping its white intact.

Mistake #7: You're Not Setting A Timer
Once you've poached a million eggs, you can tell their level of doneness by just looking at them. But for the rest of the world, it works like this: Runny eggs take 2 minutes, medium take 3 minutes, and firm take 4 minutes.

Mistake #8: You're Serving Soggy Eggs
Your eggs are now ready to eat, with one exception. Their nooks and crannies are filled with puddles of water, and that's gross. To solve this issue, remove the eggs from the water with a slotted spoon, place them on a paper towel (a strong one -- you don't want pieces of paper getting stuck to your eggs), and ever-so-gently pat the tops dry with another paper towel. Then serve them immediately. (If you're saving them for later, read below.)

Mistake #9: You're Not Making Them

Don't let your aversion to following the rules stop you from making one of the greatest things you'll ever put in your mouth. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be poaching eggs in your sleep.

BONUS TIPS
1. Make Them In Advance
Want to make your poached eggs the night before brunch? No problem. Slightly undercook them before immediately transferring them to a bowl of cold water. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. When you're ready to serve them the next morning, heat them up for a minute in almost-simmering water, then serve immediately. (This is how most restaurants do it. How else would they deal with the brunch crowd?)

2. Vinegar Helps
Adding a few drops of distilled white vinegar to your poaching water is a controversial method. Pro: It works to keep the whites intact. Con: It adds a slight vinegar flavor to your eggs. If you don't like that, skip the vinegar and just cook them gently according to the above rules.

3. Fresh Is Always Better
You CAN successfully poach eggs that are old as dirt, but it's always better if they're fresh.

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