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What Is a Poached Egg?
A poached egg is simply a whole egg cooked in simmering water. When you crack an egg into hot water (or—to be on the safe side!—gently slide a cracked egg into water from a ramekin), the proteins in the egg white immediately begin to coagulate, forming a little pouch that holds the rest of egg during cooking.
Although poached eggs can be tricky to get safely into and out of the hot water, poaching eggs is a much easier method for achieving consistently firm whites and runny yolks than frying or soft-boiling (Who knows what’s going on inside that shell?). If you take poached eggs out of the water as soon as their whites turn opaque, you’ll have a perfectly runny egg yolk every time.
4 Tips for Perfectly Poached Eggs
One of the biggest frustrations in making poached eggs is getting them to hold an attractive shape. Egg whites consist of a thick layer of white and a thin layer of white, and the thin layer tends to form whisps rather than staying neat. One solution to this is to forget about having perfect-looking poached eggs and focus on the fact that they taste perfect, but here are a few tricks for achieving picture-perfect poached eggs:
- Use the freshest eggs possible, since fresh eggs have the highest ratio of thick white to thin. As eggs age, the whites become thinner, which translates to more wispy bits.
- Cook eggs below a boil at a gentle simmer. If the water is boiling very hard, the whites will form a more irregular shape.
- For more evenly shaped poached eggs, you can strain away the runnier part of the egg white by cracking the egg into a ramekin or small bowl and then gently pouring it through a slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer into a second ramekin to drain away the thin part of the white. Carefully transfer the egg back to the first ramekin for poaching. Or, if using a strainer, slide egg straight from strainer to water.
- To make poached eggs ahead of time, store poached eggs in the fridge in a bowl of cold water for up to 3 days. Warm the eggs back up by transferring to a bowl of warm water before serving.
Dispelling Poached Egg Myths
- Adding a little salt and white vinegar to the water will speed up coagulation of the white, but can also make it more stringy. In all, it’s not really necessary.
- You don’t need special equipment to poach an egg, just a saucepan, but if you're really nervous to try egg poaching, you can nestle an egg poacher or egg cups in a skillet filled with a couple inches of water and get picture-perfect poached eggs.
- Gently swirling the water before dropping the egg can prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, but can also create extra agitation, causing the runny white to separate more.
2 Ways to Tell if Your Eggs Are Fresh
- When you crack a fresh egg open, the white should look cloudy, not clear. The white should not spread out, and the yolk should be perky—almost like a perfect semicircle.
- To test whether an egg is fresh or not before you crack it, drop the egg in cold water; the fresher the egg, the faster it will sink to the bottom. Fresh eggs will lie down on their sides in the water, while older ones will stand upright. Older eggs are easier to peel, so save them for hard-boiled. Eggs that float are too old to eat and should be discarded.
12 Ways to Serve Poached Eggs
Once you make the perfect poached eggs, try them with:
- An English muffin, Canadian bacon, and hollandaise sauce for a classic eggs benedict
- Toast and smoked salmon
- A bowl of grains, such as farro
- Polenta or grits with hot sauce
- Frisée and bacon dressed with sherry vinegar and dijon mustard for a salad Lyonnaise
- Potato or sweet potato hash
- Thinly sliced steak and chopped fresh herbs
- Hearty soup, such as tomato or lentil
- Pasta with parmesan cheese and asparagus or broccolini
- Poached Egg & Mushrooms on Brioche
- Huevos rancheros with salsa verde
- Red wine poached eggs with asparagus and mushrooms
Easy Step-By-Step Poached Egg RecipeEMAIL RECIPE
- 1 large egg
- Kosher salad and freshly ground black pepper
- Fill a medium saucepan with about 4 inches of water and bring to a boil on a stovetop. When you have boiling water, reduce the heat to low.
- Crack the egg into a ramekin. For smoother whites, strain the egg through a slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer into another ramekin, removing the runny part of the white. Carefully transfer the egg back to the first ramekin. (Or, if using a strainer, transfer the egg straight from the strainer to the water.)
- When the water is just barely simmering, transfer the egg to the poaching water. Cook for about 90 seconds, until the egg white is congealed and opaque, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Season with salt and pepper.
Learn more cooking techniques in Chef Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass.