Why It Works
- Straining eggs in a fine-mesh strainer removes excess wispy, loose whites, creating tight, perfectly-shaped eggs.
- Poaching at a 180°F (82°C) sub-simmer means fewer disturbances in the water, and cleaner, more tender cooking.
Wouldn't it be great if there were 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 it would for anyone who's had to cook several hundreds (or maybe even thousands) 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.
First, get yourself some really fresh eggs. 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.
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 wispy 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. In a pot of water at 180°F (82°C), which is just about the temperature that the water is quivering but not quite simmering yet, I 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 rolling motion is going to help ensure that you'll get a nice, tight poached egg that's, well, 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. It takes about three and a half to four minutes.
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.
The Food Lab: How to Poach Eggs
Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer, then reduce heat until it is barely quivering. It should register 180 to 190°F (82 to 88°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Carefully break 1 egg into a small bowl, then tip into a fine-mesh strainer. Carefully swirl egg around strainer, using your finger to rub off any excess loose egg whites that drop through.
Gently tip egg into water. Swirl gently with a wooden spoon for 10 seconds, just until egg begins to set. Repeat straining and tipping with remaining eggs. Cook, swirling occasionally, until egg whites are fully set but yolks are still soft, about 4 minutes.
Carefully lift eggs from pot with a slotted spoon. Serve immediately, or transfer to a bowl of cold water and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To serve, transfer to a bowl of hot water and let reheat for 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
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, keep them moving around, flipping them from time to time with a slotted spoon so that they cook evenly.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 5g||6%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||8%|
|Total Carbohydrate 0g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|