I like my breakfast eggs over-easy, fried-in-a-basket, hard-boiled, basted, or scrambled with parmesan cheese and chopped scallions, or any other way. Well, except one: I don’t like eggs soft-boiled in the shell. However, the way that Sue and I most prefer our eggs cooked is soft-boiled without the shell, otherwise known as poached. A perfectly poached farm egg is a joy to eat and a delight to behold. Just the right combination of warm resiliency in the white, and rich, unctuous orange yolk, topped with a sprinkle of coarse-grained salt and a grind of black pepper.
I’m convinced that most people don’t poach eggs because they have been led to believe that it is a complicated operation fraught with danger and difficulty. I find poaching eggs to be a fast, easy, and simple operation. You bring water to a gentle simmer, then, from very close to the surface, drop the egg gently into the water. In three minutes you remove them with a slotted spoon and they are perfect every time.
You do not need to add anything to the water (Although I put in a teaspoon of salt just to keep the water from leaching natural salt from the egg); no vinegar or lemon juice. You do not need to swirl the water; that just breaks them up. You do not need to use a funnel to insert the egg into the bath; that just complicates things.
There are, however, two subtle secrets to poaching the perfect egg.
First, you must pay attention, you cannot walk away or let your attention wander. The clock is only a rough guide to doneness, you have to look at the eggs. They cook very quickly and the perfect egg has a fully congealed white and a semi-runny yolk (your taste may vary), and the window of perfection is brief. A moment’s inattention can get you rubbery whites and chalky yolks. Set the table, pour the coffee, cook the bacon, and toast the bread before you drop the eggs in the water.
The second secret is drying. When you remove the egg from the poaching water and place it in a shallow bowl, you inevitably bring a tablespoon or so of water with it. That is enough water to ruin the consistency and flavor of the yolk, so you must remove every drop of it before you serve it. I use a single sheet of paper towel to absorb the excess water as I tilt the bowl slightly. It just takes a second but it makes all the difference in the world.
Many people who enjoy eggs soft-boiled in the shell do so because they have never had the joy of eating a properly poached egg. The taste and consistency of the egg itself is much the same, but eating it is so much more enjoyable. When poached you don’t have to battle with the shell, risk eating little crunchy shell bits as you go, or find special cups and spoons with which to eat it.
Soft-boiling in the shell makes sense in a restaurant, where it is far more convenient for the cook to soft-boil up a bunch of eggs and then serve them all morning, saving all that time and attention that poaching would require. But at home, there is no need to prepare eggs ahead of time for dozens of diners, so poaching is far superior. I can manage about 8 or 10 eggs per batch without difficulty. More than that and I cook them in two batches.
And remember, if you don’t have your own chickens, or lack a farmer friend with birds, at the store buy the eggs that say “Pasture raised.” All of the other phrases like “Free-range,” “Natural,” “Vegetarian,” “Omega-3,” or “Organic” are essentially meaningless. The only one that says that the birds were happy, outside, eating grass and bugs like their wild ancestors, and laying delicious, healthy, eggs is “Pasture raised.”
Originally published on Tumblr, 22 February 2015