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Poached eggs are a revelation when they’re done right, aren’t they? (The gorgeous running yolks! The tender whites!) And they seem like they should be a no-brainer — what protein is more basic, affordable and universally loved than eggs? And what cooking method is easier than boiling? But when things go wrong in the kitchen you can wind up with a heaving pot full of gray foam and not an edible egg in sight. Sadly, there is no one easy fix. But since I, too, have battled the quandaries of untidy whites and overcooked yolks, I will endeavor to offer you what poaching advice I can.
First, a disclaimer. There are two schools of thought when it comes to poaching eggs: mold them (to keep them neat, if a little rigid looking) or don’t mold them (they look more natural, but it’s easier to mess up). Personally, I do not condone the use of molds, not only for aesthetic reasons ( I like the magic of the round poached egg) but also because I kind of think that molds are cheating. Maybe cheating isn’t the right word, but I think this method is really more like cottling an egg (which is an equally delicious way to cook an egg, but why would you cottle without adding garlic and/or truffles?) Okay, there! I’ve said my piece on the matter, but if you want to buy a mold and find that it helps you out, by all means go ahead, but bear in mind the following instructions are geared toward the unmolded poaching school.
How to Poach an Egg
Eggs (the fresher the better!)
2 qts water
2 T salt
2 T white vinegar
2-3 qt. saucepan
large slotted spoon
a small bowl (around 1/3 c. capacity is perfect)
large bowl filled with ice water for ice bath
Assemble you tools:
Make sure all of your utensils are within easy reach from the stove.
Prepare your boiling solution:
Both salt and vinegar make eggs firm up more quickly. Use a Tablespoon each of salt and white vinegar for every quart of cooking liquid*. If you are poaching just one egg at a time then you should bring no less than 2 quarts of water to a full boil. If you use too little cooking liquid then your egg will cool down the pot too much, spread out over the bottom of the pot and look like a sad, soggy fried egg. Boil water: Bring the pot to a full boil. In order to have the liquid at the right temperature I like to bring it first to a full boil, then take the pot off the heat and add the egg. This way you know your water is hot enough. While you are waiting for your water to come to a boil, prepare your ice bath. And don’t skimp on the ice, use at least a full tray of cubes.
Drop eggs into liquid:
Once your water is at the right temperature (just off boiling) you’re ready for the vortex! Crack your first egg into a small bowl. Take your wooden spoon and stir in one motion around the outside of your pot. This will create a little whirlpool- the whirlpool action will help to keep the whites in a round, compact eggy sort of shape. In one steady motion pour the egg straight into the center of the vortex. Now this takes a lot of time to explain, but really it should happen very quickly, like: Crack. Stir. Into the vortex. Done.
Set a timer for three minutes. Do not walk away from the pot. You want to keep the temperature at a simmer(small bubbles rising) but not at a full boil. So fuss with the heat if you need to, but keep it right there. After three minutes, scoop out your egg with the slotted spoon and immediately transfer it to the ice bath. If you have more eggs to poach, turn up the heat and bring the pot back to a full boil to start the next egg.
Reheat before serving:
Because nothing,apparently can be simple here: there are two ways to reheat the chilled poached eggs for serving. Now, I’m on the verge of a rant about modern poultry raising techniques and the silly standards of the FDA, but you just want to know how to poach an egg, not hear all of that so I’ll try to restrain myself. In brief, there is one ultra safe method (that
requires a thermometer and a little more time) and another method that just about everyone uses, but still carries some risk of salmonella being pre
sent. If you get your eggs from a really good source, then the ultra-safe method is probably a bit cautious. Still, if you’re cooking
for grandmothers, little kiddos or anyone else with a weaker immune system, I’d pick the safe method. The ultra-safe method: pour off some of your boiling water and add cold water until the water is exactly 150 F. Then add the eggs that you want to reheat and keep them at 150 F (reheating on the stove, if necessary) for a full 15 minutes. This heat is high enough to kill any salmonella, but will still leave you with runny yolks.
The easy method is to just plunge the egg into hot water (just off of boiling) for about 30 seconds and then serve.
*It is worth noting, that you do not have to poach eggs in water. Wine, broth and butter are all (I’m told) good for poaching. But I’m cheap, and so I can’t really see buying even a cheap bottle of wine just to pollute with shards of cooked egg white. I’d rather make a wine reduction sauce to serve the egg with.