The perfect poached egg is a thing of pure joy, don't you think? For me, the ideal poached egg is one where the egg whites have only just gone from milky to set, with the yolk still beautifully runny. Divine.
But for such a simple dish there's a surprising about of skill required to get a consistently perfect poached egg, and one or two disasters can easily put you off attempting them again.
Many good recipes are made great when topped with a poached egg, so to make sure you never have to miss out again, I give you three methods that, with a little care, will yield perfect poached eggs every time. And you'll only need ingredients and utensils we all have at home!
A couple of notes before we get started. Try to get the freshest eggs you can - the fresher the egg the less runny the whites. Not such a big deal for batters, but of huge importance when poaching if you don't want to end up with wispy strings and broken yolks.
Egg size also will make some difference to cooking times and even an extra minute in the pan can make the difference between light and soft whites becoming hard and rubbery, so whatever your preferred method, keep an eye on your eggs so that can see when they've reached perfection.
The whisk & pan method
If you need to only cook one or two eggs you can’t beat the looks, ease or outcome of the traditional method, which involves creating a vortex in the centre of the pan.
Add a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar to a pan of of water and bring to the boil. Make sure the pan is of a decent size, as you'll want to give your egg plenty of room.
As soon as the water is boiling, turn the heat down a little - when your egg goes in to the water you don’t want it above a simmer. Anything more energetic will mean lots of motion in the water, and too many bubbles, which can break up the egg white.
With a whisk or spoon stir the water quickly in one direction.
Wait a couple of seconds for the motion to settle down a little. All the bubbles should accumulate in the centre.
Crack the egg away from the pan (you don't want it to leak into the water) and then get the shell as close as possible to the water’s surface before slowly prising it open and dropping the content into the centre of the pan.
If the steam from the water makes it difficult to do slowly then you can crack the egg into a ramekin or small mug then slip it into the water.
After 3 minutes, fish the egg out of the water with a slotted spoon or spatula. A glance, gentle shake or prod should be enough to tell if it needs more time, in which case you can put it gently back in the water.
The only downside with this method is you generally need as many pans as eggs, which isn't ideal if you want to have several ready at the same time. However, there is a trick I use to do an almost unlimited number of eggs with just two pans.
Start with the method above, but also have a second large pot of water ready that’s kept very warm, but not boiling. Egg whites set at around 63c, so 60c is perfect - you can use a thermometer if you have one.
This time, when the first egg is firm enough to pick up with a slotted utensil but not quite done, fish it out of the water and transfer it to the larger pot, where it will continue to cook very slowly.
Continue this process of transferring the eggs to the larger pot until you have finished them all.
The eggs should last at least 20 minutes in the pot - enough time to cook around six eggs.
I find they have cooked to perfection by the time you retrieve them all from the second pot, but if you think the eggs need to be firmed up a little just heat the second pot up just before serving until the eggs are how you like them.
The plastic wrap (clingfilm) method
If the poaching gods have been unkind to you one too many times in the past, then this foolproof method will give you perfect results with just a single pan and no whisking.
Here's what to do...
Tear off a square of plastic wrap (cling film) and place it on a flat surface, then lightly brush the centre with olive oil or melted butter. I find it helps to weight down a couple of corners to keep the plastic wrap in place.
Take a small bowl or ramekin and place it under the centre of the plastic wrap. Tuck the wrap down into the bottom of the ramekin.
Carefully crack an egg into the ramekin.
Carefully draw together the remaining plastic wrap over the egg, making sure to leave a small pocket of air at the top - this is so that the egg stays upright and should not turn over or leak in the pan.
Give the cling film a little twist at the top. You'll then need to seal the twist. I find paper clips or hair pins are the easiest to add and remove, but string works just as well.
Cut down the extraneous cling film with scissors. It's not essential, but it will make it easier to see what’s going on in the pan and you won't drag as much boiling water out of the pan when you retrieve your cooked egg.
Once all your eggs are wrapped up add them to a pan of boiling water for three minutes.
Fish the eggs out of the water with a slotted spoon or spatula, take of the clip off and unwrap the egg. Be careful of the steam.
And you're done! Wasn't that easy?
The shape is a little volcano-like with this method, which you might find less pleasing than the whisk and pan method, but it does have the benefit of being very, very easy, and you can cook several in the same pan with no risk of them mixing.
The muffin tray method
If you ever have to do a very large batch of poached eggs in a hurry (an emergency brunch for six, perhaps?), then this method allows you to easily poach up to 24 eggs with just two muffin tins in one oven. And there's no messing around with pans at all!
To start, place the muffin tins in the oven, and set it to 180c. When the oven has reached 180c carefully take the muffin tin out and add around 1tsp of white wine vinegar to each hole.
Add 1-2 tbsp of boiling water to each pot and carefully crack an egg into the centre of each tin.
Return to the oven for around 13-15 minutes (checking regularly towards the end of the cooking time).
When ready, remove from the oven and carefully free the eggs from their holes using a large spoon.
Delicious - and so easy!
But wait! There’s nothing worse than ruining a beautifully prepared Eggs Benedict with soggy bread. Or turning mashed avocado and eggs into a watery mess.
Why does that happen? It's because when the eggs are lifted from the water, they are wet, and that water can seep on to the final dish.
So, there's one rather obvious but oft overlooked final step that's an absolute must for the perfect poached egg dish. Read on!
Bonus tip! The secret step
Take a clean tea towel or a few sheets of kitchen towel and place on a plate.
When the eggs are done, place them on the towel.
Lightly dab the eggs with another piece of kitchen towel (or other half of the tea towel) to dry the tops.
If you’re still preparing the rest of the meal, you can keep the towel on top of the eggs until ready to help keep them warm.
And there you have it, perfect poached eggs no matter how many people you’re cooking for.
Let me know how you get on with the method you choose. Or perhaps you have a whole other method you'd love to share? Let me know!