POACHING IDEAS: the Perfect Poached Egg

Poaching ideas is nothing new to us here at NOM NOM. And there are a great many ideas on how to achieve the ‘perfect poached egg’. Let’s examine three great methods of achieving cracking poached eggs, stolen from the best chefs and cooks around the globe. But which method is the best?

Stealing ideas – or ‘developing’ ideas – as I like to call it, is nothing new. In fact it is the basis of progression; the foundation of cumulative technology. Creativity also works like this. It is well documented, for example, ‘versioning’ is rife in the music community – and I am not talking about illegal downloading here.

I believe it was Keith Richards who once said that his songwriting method was to take another person’s song and try – in vain – to copy it.  The fact, he said, that he was such a poor songwriter [sic], meant that he usually ended up with a song that sounded nothing like the original song he was trying to emulate.

On the same note, Led Zeppelin famously defended the similarity of their songs to old American blues tunes by pointing out that most of the songs in question had at some point been stolen from someone else. And if Ol’ Blind Joe can make a living from playing the music of his forefathers why can’t Robert Plant and Jimmy Page do likewise?


The Cooking Cat Burglar

The same goes for cooking. Developing recipes that have been passed down through the family for generations only to find that great Grandma ‘stole’ the recipe from whichever cookbook was popular at the time. Maybe you’ve learned all you know about food from Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson? Or is NOM NOM your chief source of culinary schooling?! Either way, I’m sure you’ve taken a recipe or technique you’ve learned from somewhere at some point or another and adopted it as your own.

Of course this is true for me. Therefore I have decided to take the whole concept of poaching ideas from other chefs, cooks, family and friends to the ultimate literal level and get to the bottom of what makes a cracking poached egg. So here are my ideas on poaching if you haven’t already heard enough of them at this point…

Methods of Poaching an Egg

First we have to establish our definition of the ‘perfect poached egg‘, because let’s face it, the poached egg is one of those seemingly simple things things in life whose perfection can be extremely difficult to achieve. While people may disagree about how runny they like their yolks I think everyone agrees that they want a uniform(ish) egg white surrounding a perfectly cooked yolk. No mean feat when you consider the consistency of an egg and how it behaves when you put it in water.

There are a few tricks for how to gain cooking control over your eggs. The first is how fresh they are. From the moment an egg is laid, the proteins in the albumen (whites) and yolk begin to denature. The fresher an egg is the less likely the yolk is to break – the ultimate egg cooking failure. The egg will also be more nutritious and taste better as a bonus!

The second constant is the water in which you poach your egg. It has to be as hot as possible without boiling over. The heat will set the egg as quickly as possible once it enters the water which will stop the egg white running all over the place. But if the water is boiling, the bubbles will disrupt the shape of the egg. This is why it is important to  salt your water.

Salt, when added to water, changes the temperature at which water turns into a gas i.e. starts boiling and bubbling. The salt makes the boiling temperature of the water increase which will allow the water to get hotter while not boiling over. Get your water as hot as possible before adding your egg and remember that adding an egg will bring the temperature of the water down – so leave some time between adding more eggs to the water if you are poaching loads of eggs.

Adding a little vinegar to the water – about a tablespoon or two will do – will change the pH of the water. This will help stop the sensitive proteins in the egg white unraveling as it hits the heat of the water, and will help the egg maintain its shape. Some people like the slight taste of vinegar on the egg once it is cooked and some don’t. If you don’t like it, then simply rinse the egg in plain water after it is cooked.

The third, and most contentious aspect of poaching an egg, is the method you use. It has to do with how much water you poach the egg in and whether you keep the water as still as possible so as not to disrupt the egg as it cooks, swirl the water to create a circular current which will help shape the egg 0r constrain the egg in a container or bag to help it hold its shape. They all have their merits and all have certain technique that, if not done properly will likely turn out worse than if you just dumped an egg in boiling water. So the question remains – which technique is best?

Three of the Best Techniques to Achieve Perfect Poached Eggs

Technique 1: The Swirling Water Method

This is the preferred technique by kitchen pros in cafes the world round. Done correctly, this method will produce perfectly cooked eggs that look fantastic! It is also relatively good for cooking multiple numbers of eggs, which is why pros use it. The problem is, that if you don’t swirl the water at the correct speed then you will end up with a disaster. The common mistake is to swirl the water too much which will cause the egg white to spin off into the water as you crack the egg. You need the water to be going at a steady slow swirl. This will allow the egg to gently twist upon itself to form a nice circle.

The second issue with this method is know how long to cook the egg. without knowledge of how long you should cook your egg it can be a little difficult to tell how runny the yolk is. For the  above reasons this method is probably the best, but requires a fair bit of practice to learn how long you want your eggs to cook for and how to get the perfect swirl happening. If you are prepared to put some time and thought into poaching eggs give this method a go – but be prepared to give it a number of goes.

Technique 2: The Glad Wrap Method

I am sure you have guessed it. Crack your egg into glad wrap and then lower it into your water. The glad wrap will hold the egg in place while it cooks. While this may sound quite appealing – and you will get a reasonably shaped egg at the end of it, albeit will striations from the twisted plastic – this method has serious downsides. For starters, your egg will be quite rubbery because you won’t actually have poached it but kind of baked it instead – as the egg will not really come into contact with the water. It is also fiddly and will create yet another step in the process of poaching your egg. By all means if you are feeling really low on confidence then this is a method you might try. But  this should not be a method you intend to stick with. It just doesn’t produce the best poached eggs. And it is still difficult to tell when the egg is perfectly cooked.

Technique 3: The shallow Pan Method

This is the absolute best method for beginners and will produce a perfectly poached egg nearly every time. It involves using a frying pan that is filled with about an inch and a half of water – just enough to cover an egg with the yolk just slightly sticking out of the water. If you want to be extra careful you can crack the egg into a bowl first and then gently tip the egg into the hot water. Cracking it in is fine too. The egg will perfectly sit on the bottom of the pan. When the whites start to whiten then make sure you lift the egg off the bottom of the pan with a fish slice in case it sticks. This way the egg will cook from the bottom up, leaving the bit of egg yolk sticking out of the water uncooked. You will be able to easily see as the egg yolk cooks from the bottom. When it reaches the perfect amount of doneness for your liking splash some water over the top of the egg which will immediately seal of the yolk sticking out of the water. In this way you will have ultimate control over how done you want the yolk. If you want it really really well done (which to be honest you shouldn’t – boil your egg if you don’t like the yolk at least a little runny!) then keep splashing it some more.


The only downside to this method – and it isn’t really a downside – is that you will have an egg with most of the white on the bottom and a yolk on the top much like a fried egg. It will still be nice and round but the yolk won’t be in the absolute centre. For some people this is a problem and for others it is a bonus to have the yolk on top. Either way this method gives you the most control and requires you to have very little skill or knowledge on how to poach an egg. Still if you want to look like a pro in the kitchen do give technique 1 a swirl.


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