The Food Lab: How to Poach Eggs for a Party

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

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Perfect poached eggs for a crowd is much easier than it sounds! [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

A couple of weeks back a friend of mine asked me on Facebook how to poach a large number of eggs for a brunch party.

I used to be afraid of poached eggs. Back when I was a working cook in Boston, I'd have to head into the kitchen of the fancy-pants restaurant where I worked at the crack of dawn to start preparing breakfast for the Beacon Hill bigwigs that came in expecting perfect poached eggs and hash cakes. Over the coarse of several weeks I got pretty damned good at poaching eggs to-order in a giant hotel pan stretched across two burners.

But man would I love to have a time machine so I could show former me what current me knows.

Here's a secret: When poaching eggs, you don't have to cook them to-order. In fact, you can poach them up to five days in advance with no loss in quality. Not only that, but it takes just 2 minutes and zero skill to take those eggs from fridge-cold to liquid-yolk-ready-to-serve once brunch begins.

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Here's how you do it.

Step 1: Poach Many Eggs

We start by poaching eggs just like we normally would. If you're new around these parts and haven't yet seen our video on foolproof poached eggs, I'd suggest you take a quick look, as this technique is largely based off of that video.

We start by breaking a very fresh egg into a small cup, then transferring it to a wire mesh strainer and swirling it around.

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This will drain away all the excess watery white, giving you a nice, tight egg shape that'll poach much more cleanly.

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Transfer the egg to a large bowl.

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Then repeat with five more eggs. I like to cook mine a half dozen at a time, though once you get good and practiced, you can get away with cooking a few more at a time.

While you're cracking eggs, you should have a big pot of salted water warming up on the stove. There's no need to add vinegar to it—vinegar can help egg proteins coagulate a bit faster to prevent them from spreading out too much in the pan, but with our straining technique, that's not really an issue. I prefer the cleaner flavor and superior texture you get from vinegar-free water.

Place a steamer basket insert inside the pot. The water should be just starting to bubble when you add the eggs.

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Carefully tip the eggs into the basket, trying to drop them in one at a time. The closer you get to the surface of the water the better. The goal here is to space the eggs evenly so they have room to achieve a nice shape. Don't worry, so long as you didn't break them they won't stick together in the water.

Once they've settled down and sat in the water for about 15 seconds, you can very gently start moving them and flipping them with a slotted wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. The more the eggs get flipped and rotated, the better their finished shape will be. That said, you want to be very careful not to break them.

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After three to four minutes, the egg white should be fully set with the yolks still tender. You can test this by gently picking one up with a slotted spoon and poking the yolk with your fingertip. It should feel like a plump water balloon.

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Once all of the eggs are cooked, pick them up out of the water. Doesn't that steamer insert make it easy?

Step 2: Chill and Store the Eggs

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Immediately transfer the eggs to a bowl filled with very cold water (you can add ice if your tap water is not cold enough). Repeat the cooking step as many times as necessary until you have all the eggs you need.

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Once all of your eggs are chilled, you can transfer them to a sealable container and top them up with cold water. Cover and store in the fridge for up to five days.

Step 3: Reheat and Serve

Ready to serve those eggs? Good. Here's the fun part: you don't even need to boil water. In fact, it's better not to. With a pot of simmering water you run the risk of accidentally overcooking them. The water that comes out of your hot tap will almost certainly be hot enough to re-warm the eggs without overcooking them. Mine comes out at 140°F, which is just about the right serving temperature for a poached egg.

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To reheat the eggs, fill up a large bowl with hot water. Return the eggs to a steamer insert and gently lower them into the hot water.

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Let them sit for 2 minutes to warm up, topping up with more hot water as necessary (this is mainly an issue if you are reheating lots and lots of eggs).

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When ready to serve, drain off the excess water by transferring the eggs to a clean paper towel to blot.

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Your eggs are now ready to serve, either on their own, or better yet, topped with my Foolproof Hollandaise for Eggs Benedict.

Party on, dudes.