Wouldn't it be great if there was a poached egg method that works every time, and better yet, allows you to poach your eggs in advance, ready to be served at moment's notice?
I've wanted to write about poached eggs for a while. Egg-poaching is a technique that looms large in my legend, as they would for anyone who's had to cook several hundred (or maybe even thousand) of them in various restaurants. See, even after years of practice, my success rate hovered at maybe around 75%.
Every time I dropped an egg in the pan, I'd make sure to drop a second, knowing that at least half the time, one of them would break or come out looking like a wispy ghost, its wet white tentacles threatening to spread over your toasted English muffin or shrouding your frisée aux lardons salad. That's the last thing I'd wish on any diner paying over the odds for a perfect salad.
It wasn't until I discovered this technique, which you'll see in the video—something I first heard from insane British chef Heston Blumenthal—that my success rate suddenly soared to, well, pretty much 100%, where it's stayed ever since. The method was actually first mentioned in The Curious Cook, Harold McGee's second book. Strange, because I'd read the book countless times, yet somehow this one trick never stuck with me. Hopefully it'll stick better with you.
The trick is easy, requires nothing more than a fine-mesh strainer, and unlike every other poached egg trick out there, this one really really works. Ready? Hit play!
Watch the Video to Become an Egg-Poaching Pro
Wasn't that simple?
(P.S. Do ya like the video format of this demo? If so, let us know, and we'll keep it up!)
EDIT: By popular request, here's the transcript!
The perfect poached egg. Tender whites around a warm liquid yolk that oozes out like liquid gold when you cut into it. They're an essential part of Eggs Benedict, they can turn any salad into a meal, or any vegetable into brunch.
The problem is, they're really tough to make right. So you've probably read all the tricks and know all the secrets: Add vinegar to your water. Add salt to your water. Don't add salt to your water. Stir a vortex into the water. Wrap your eggs in plastic wrap. And guess what? None of them really work.
After years of testing, I've only come across one method that works every single time, and all it requires are two things.
The first is: a really fresh egg. Fresh eggs have tighter whites and yolks that help them retain their shape better as they cook.
There are two ways to tell how fresh an egg is. The first is to check something called the Julian date. As long as it's packed in the US, every carton of eggs has a number between 000 and 365 on it. And that number corresponds to the day on which the egg was cleaned and packaged. So a number of 000 would mean January 1st, 003 would be January 4th, and so on. All you really need to know is that the higher that number, the fresher the egg.
You can also tell how fresh an egg is by carefully putting it into a cup of water. As an egg ages, the air pocket in the fat end is going to get bigger and bigger, which will make the egg stand upright or sometimes even float. A really fresh egg will sink and lie flat on its back like this.
Once you've got your fresh egg, the second tool you need is something I saw first suggested by British chef Heston Blumenthal: A fine mesh strainer.
You see, no matter how fresh your eggs are, there is always going to be some amount of liquid white. It's this excess white that causes misshapen eggs - you know those really ugly ones with the whispy white floaters that completely ruin your brunch.
To get rid of them, we're going to transfer our eggs to a fine mesh strainer, and gently swirl it around until all the excess white is drained away. What you're left with is a nice, tight egg.
Even better is that the strainer is actually the ideal tool for lowering the egg into the water. What I've got here is a pot of water with water at 180°F, which is just about the temperature that the water is quivering but not quite simmering yet. All I am going to do is gently lower the strainer with the egg into the water, move it back and forth a little bit to make sure the egg isn't stuck, and then carefully roll the egg out.
Just like a kid, it's these early formative stages of a poached egg's life that are going to determine how it turns out in the end. Using the round-bottomed strainer and this rolling motion is going to help ensure that you'll get a nice, tight poached egg that's, well, that's egg shaped.
If you want to cook multiple eggs, just make sure that you have them cracked into separate dishes and ready to go. Once they're in the water, your only job is to keep them moving around, flipping them from time to time with a slotted spoon, so that they cook evenly. After about 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, this is what you've got.
You can even cook them ahead of time and store them submerged in cold water in the fridge for up to a few days. To reheat them, just transfer them to a bowl of hot water for a few minutes just before serving.
Food Lab, signing out.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.