Poaching is a great way to treat an egg provided you know the best way to poach. A poached egg should e a lovely, tender white pouch cooked evenly all the way through. The top of the egg yolk should look slightly pink and, when cut, should run just a little. The white that surrounds it should glisten and jiggle, like baked custard. Last, the cooking liquid should be left with no stray strands of egg white.
Part of the problem with many poached egg recipes is the pot. Most recipes call for a deep saucepan. but I wondered if the egg would be easier to control in a shallow skillet. I decided to test a three-quart saucepan against an 8-inch nonstick skillet with flared sides, which I figured might make it easier to maneuver the eggs.
The first advantage of the skillet quickly became clear: Shallower water comes to a boil more quickly, making the cooking time with a skillet a speedy proposition. Second, an egg meets the bottom of a skillet sooner than it does the bottom of a pot just a few inches taller. This gives the egg an early floor on which to land gently before it has a chance to build up velocity. The sooner the egg is on solid ground, the quicker the whites hold together and the less likely they are to become stringy.
It is necessary to fill the pan almost to the rim. Not surprisingly, I found that the highest heat possible on impact sets the egg whites most quickly. Because water is the cooking medium, that means 212 degrees. This high heat also causes the yolks to hurry up and cook.
Even with these measures, however, whites can still become ragged (the process is called feathering). Most experts suggest treating the water with vinegar to lower the pH of the water. I found that adding vinegar does, in fact, reduce feathering. The lower pH of the water lowers the temperature at which the whites and yolks set, which means that after the initial dunk into boiling water, the egg can cook in water that’s slightly cooler and, hence, calmer.
Indeed, I found that poached eggs come out best when the water is not at a boil. The eggs should be added to boiling water, but for the actual cooking time, I concluded that absolutely still water, as long as it’s very hot, will poach an egg just the same. So I turned off the heat and covered the skillet. Without all the agitation of simmering r boiling water, the eggs cooked up better-looking every time.
During the 3 1/2 to 4 minutes that it takes the captured heat to cook the eggs, the temperature of the covered water drops only about 20 degrees. This means that poaching eggs in residual heat eliminates the need to simmer, which can create rough waters that cause the egg to partially disintegrate. It also serves to outwit home stoves that run “hot” and can’t hold a simmer.
With this technique down, I focused on some smaller issues. Heavily salted water, I found, makes the eggs taste better than lightly salted water. I use at least 1 full teaspoon of salt in the filled skillet; otherwise the eggs are bland.
The next question: How to get the eggs into the boiling water without their breaking apart? Cracking the egg onto a saucer first, then add it to the water is often mentioned in old recipes, but you lose a lot of control as the slithery egg and gravity derail your aim. Cracked into a small cup and slipped into the water the eggs stays intact as it descends into purgatory. Each egg should be cracked into its own cup before the water boils. It may seem a lot easier to refill the same cup over and over with a freshly cracked egg than to wash two, four or more cups once the eggs are done, but you use a lot of precious time when you crack and pour the eggs in one at a time. If the eggs aren’t in the water within seconds of each other, you’ll have to keep track of which egg went in when, a nearly impossible proposition.
When the time’s up, I use an oval-bowled slotted spoon to lift the eggs out of the poaching liquid. The soon mimics the shape of the egg, so it nestles comfortably. A skimmer picks the egg up nicely, but I find that the egg rolls around dangerously on the flat surface.
I let the egg “drip-dry” by holding it aloft briefly over the skillet. For really dry eggs, a paper towel blots to the last drop. I actually liked a little of the cooking water to come along with the poached eggs (the better to taste the vinegar). Pass salt, pepper, and a bottle of Tabasco at the table, and your perfect poached eggs are ready to eat!
Click HERE for a simple recipe for poached eggs!