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How To Poach Eggs

Apr 17, 2008
Poaching eggs is a skill that is rapidly disappearing from the kitchens of the world, thanks to those awful patent cookers that produce something with the appearance, and consistency, of a plastic amoeba.

I'm not exaggerating when I say it's a skill. Poaching an egg in such a way that it retains its shape and texture is something that many chefs, let alone home cooks, never quite master. It requires a certain amount of care and a great deal of dedication.

If you are thinking this is a lot of fuss over something you are occasionally going to eat on toast, let me just point out that eggs cooked in this way have many other uses.

For example, they make great salads, are excellent with salmon, perfect with steak and, together with Hollandaise Sauce make one of the classic dishes of the world; eggs Benedict.

There are two basic methods of cooking them that work perfectly. I'm going to give them both, but first a word about the eggs. They must be very fresh and they must be at room temperature.

Eggs straight out of the fridge do not cook well, no matter what you are going to use them for, and they take some time to thaw out. At least two hours, in fact, so plan ahead and leave them out in the kitchen for at least that amount of time before you use them.

Method 1
In a shallow pan bring about 10cm (4 inch) of water to simmering point and add one teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of white vinegar. This can be of any kind, including wine vinegar. It's purpose is to help hold the whites together.

Crack an egg into a small cup or saucer. Using a wooden spoon, stir the water in the pan until you have a whirlpool effect and then carefully pour the egg into the centre of it.

It will immediately form into an oval shape. Leave it to cook for 6 to 8 minutes and then used a slotted spoon to transfer it to a basin of cold water.*

Method 2
This is the way I poach my eggs at home although the one above is my preferred method if I'm only going to cook a few - say two at most.

It requires two pans, a saucepan and a deep skillet, plus a wire basket or steamer that will fit completely inside the saucepan. You'll see why in a minute.

Half fill the saucepan with water and bring this to the boil. Don't add any salt or vinegar or anything else that might flavor the eggs.

Put the eggs that you intend to poach into the wire basket whole and lower this into the boiling water. Leave it there for exactly 10 seconds and take it out. What this does is cause the whites of the eggs to thicken slightly, so that they hold together when you crack the eggs.

Pour about 2.5cms (1 inch) of the hot water from the saucepan into the skillet and put this on a low heat. You want it to simmer. Reserve the remaining water if you intend to serve the eggs immediately.

Crack the eggs into the skillet and allow them to cook until the whites set. You will see that they hold together very well and don't spread out all over the bottom of the pan.

Transfer them to a bowl of cold water as before.*

*Why the bowl of cold water?
It allows you to cook as many eggs as you need in as much time as you have without having to rush. You can keep the eggs in this water in the fridge overnight if necessary. They will not deteriorate and can be brought back to life simply by picking them up on a slotted spoon and dipping them in hot water for a few seconds.

They can also be drained and served cold in salads, with mayonnaise or dropped into hot broth for an Asian-style soup.
About the Author
Michael Sheridan is a former head-chef and an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking matters. His website at All About Cooking contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks
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