Are poached eggs already part of your kitchen repertoire? If not, consider this your invitation to get cracking and bring your egg game to the next level.

At first glance, poaching eggs can seem complicated: The finesse required to crack an egg without breaking the yolk, the fussiness of having to put each egg in its own little bowl before adding it to the pan, the careful regulation of water temperature, and the leap of faith necessary to slip a liquidy egg into liquidy water and trust that it will somehow adhere into an intact, semi-solid globe of deliciousness.

Adding to the air of intimidation is the fact that so many well-known cookbook authors and culinary experts proclaim that they have the best way to poach an egg—and each technique is different. Who needs that kind of turmoil at breakfast or brunch?

Here's what it really comes down to: If you can crack an egg and simmer a panful of water, you've got all the skills you need to become an egg-poaching virtuoso. (And, pssst! Guess what? Any of those well-tested recipes should lead to perfectly fine poached eggs. It's mostly a matter of practice, and deciding what works well for you.)

Poached Eggs on Toast
Credit: Rob Tannenbaum

What Is Poaching, Exactly?

Of course, Martha explains it best. According to our founder, poaching means to submerge food fully or partially in barely simmering liquid, usually water. It's a wet cooking method that produces moist food. It's also one that requires the addition of little or no fat, so it's a healthy cooking method.

The Golden Rules of Poached Eggs

Let's not overcomplicate how to poach an egg (or several eggs at the same time). Follow our tips for perfectly poached eggs.

Fresh Eggs Are Best, but Older Eggs Work, Too

Some guides to poaching eggs insist you use the freshest possible eggs, even telling you to go out and buy eggs before you poach. It's true that the fresher the eggs, the more tightly the whites cling to the yolks, making for a tidy little package. Older eggs are certainly not a dealbreaker, though (as long as they're within their expiration date, that is). They'll release more shaggy tendrils into the cooking water, but these can be trimmed off before serving.

There's No Need to Break Each Egg Into Its Own Bowl Before Cooking

If it's a priority for each egg to look extremely neat and symmetrical, then the one-at-a-time approach is still the way to go. But if you're cooking for a crowd and are comfortable with a more natural, rustic look for your poached eggs, go ahead and break them all into the same bowl and slide them into the water all at once. Just ensure that your pan is big enough to allow the eggs to spread out in a single layer with some elbow room.

The Water Should Be Simmering, but not Boiling

Before you add the eggs, get a handle on the temperature by bringing the water to a boil then easing the heat back down until you have a steady simmer.

Vinegar Is Optional, Not Essential

A splash of vinegar in the cooking water helps egg whites coagulate more quickly, but you can still make some lovely poached eggs with just a pan of water; no vinegar required.

It's Fast—Do Not Overcook

The ideal cooking time for poached eggs depends on the size of the egg. It might be as little as one to two minutes, but more likely is three to four minutes. Not sure if the eggs are done? Err on the side of less time. The whites should be just set and the yolk still soft. The best part of a poached egg is the luxurious way the yolk oozes and coats everything it touches with a layer of vivid gold. An overcooked yolk loses its magic. Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the cooking water.

Make-Ahead Poached Eggs Are a Thing

If you're working just 30 minutes or so ahead of time, transfer the poached eggs to a bowl of room-temperature water and keep the bowl on the counter until serving time. You can make poached eggs for a crowd a whole day ahead of time too. Move the cooked eggs from the hot water directly into a bowl of ice water. Keep this bowl in the refrigerator until it's almost time to eat. Reheat the poached eggs in a pan of simmering water just until heated through, 30 to 60 seconds.

Embrace Your Newfound Egg-Poaching Skill

Remember that poached eggs are at the center of some of the best breakfast and brunch dishes. We're talking about Eggs Benedict and all its delicious variations, such as Crab-and-Avocado Eggs Benedict.

But don't think a poached egg is only a breakfast food. Put your new egg-poaching skills to the test by serving them for dinner in our Frisée Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs or Roasted-Vegetable Salad with Poached Eggs. You probably haven't used poached eggs to finish a bowl of soup, but you should, whether that soup is tomato or mushroom. Finally, don't overlook the power of a poached egg's yolk to create a creamy sauce for pasta or a rice bowl.


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