Poached Eggs: An Exploration of Various Cooking Techniques

Ah, the poached egg. Warm, runny yolk, cloaked in a thin layer of egg white, spilling softly onto a piece of white toast, with lots of freshly-cracked black pepper. Poached eggs on toast continue to be my go-to breakfast, but even a poached egg lover like myself has to admit that the notion of cleaning out foamy tendrils of egg white from a saucepan often prevents me from enjoying my favorite breakfast. A quick Internet search reveals that many people share this intimidation when it comes to poaching eggs, with tons of techniques all promising foolproof perfect poached eggs. It’s time to put these techniques to the test, and put this poaching business to rest once and for all.

Microwave Poached Eggs

Technique: Fill a mug halfway with water. Crack raw egg into mug. Microwave for a minute and a half, listening carefully. When you hear light “popping” sounds, the egg is done. Drain.

Results:

Notes: While cleanup is a snap, and there is no egg white “flyaway,” this doesn’t even resemble a well-poached egg. In this, the easiest technique we tested, the yolk is hard-cooked, while the white remains runny, which kind of seems like the opposite of what you want. This one went to the dog, and this simply isn’t a technique we can recommend.

“Cup-Drop” Poached Eggs

Technique: Bring a saucepan full of water with a dash of vinegar to a boil. Crack an egg into a small teacup. Drop the egg, cup and all, into the boiling water, and cook for three minutes.

Results:

Notes: This method was needlessly complicated, while not solving any of the problems with poaching eggs. After dropping the cup into the pan, a bunch of the white foamed up and floated away. After the two minutes, you are then faced with the problem of how to get a fragile egg out of a piping hot teacup that is submerged in boiling water. This resulted in a lot of fumbling around with tongs and slotted spoons, and the added juggling time overcooked the egg slightly. After getting it drained, I noticed that the egg had hardly any white left, and the pan was a mess. The verdict? Another failed technique, that adds only the complications of a steaming hot cup to the equation, while reducing none of the problems.

Saran Wrap Poached Eggs

Technique: Line a teacup with plastic wrap. Crack an egg into the cup, and twist the top to seal. Place the plastic wrapped egg bundle into simmering water, and cook for three minutes.

Results:

Notes: This technique also suffers from overcomplication. While it is nice to retain all of the egg white, getting the cooked egg out of its plastic prison and onto your toast can be problematic. As you can see, we weren’t able to do it without breaking the yolk, which makes your presentation suffer. Also, the egg being sealed from the water removes the very faint vinegar flavor from the finished product, which, for me, is an important part of the poached egg experience. This technique works well for anyone overly preoccupied with egg white flyaway, but the extra tools and steps needed don’t make this a worthwhile technique for regular use.

Vortex Poached Eggs

Technique: Crack egg into cup and set aside. Add a dash of vinegar to a saucepan of water, and heat. Just before water boils (when there are a million tiny bubbles in the pot), use a spatula or wooden spoon to swirl the water in a circle, creating a vortex. Calling it a “vortex” makes this sound much, much cooler than it is. When water swirls, slip egg from cup into center of vortex, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Result:

Notes: This technique resulted in eggs that most closely resemble my notion of poached eggs. The white of the eggs gets fluffy, and a small portion of the white wraps around the yolk, which is not only pretty, but protects the yolk from breaking while you drag it out of the water. There is also the slightest twinge from the vinegar, which I enjoy. This technique is actually the simplest, though it may take a practice egg or two to get the technique down. As you can see, I overcooked mine a little bit, in the example above.

Conclusion:

The oldest techniques are the best. The vortex method of poaching egg requires just a tiny bit of finesse, but results in light, fluffy poached eggs, with yolks ever-so-slightly cooked on the outside, but still perfect for smearing around on the buttered toast. While the swirl may take a little practice, the results are spectacular.

Bonus: The Un-Poached Egg

Technique: Pierce the large end of a raw egg with a pin, to let steam escape. Lower egg into boiling water. Boil for four minutes, then run under cold water to halt cooking. Peel carefully, and place on toast. Cut open, add salt and pepper, and serve.

Result:

Notes: For those who simply can’t abide the Vortex technique, there is a great alternative that achieves some of the same goals of the poached egg on toast: You can soft boil your egg. A properly soft-boiled egg offers a slightly firmer white, but still lots of delicious, runny yolk, with a cooking technique that is vastly simpler and easier to clean up. Try it…you might find you can’t tell the difference!

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed “Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road,” as well as the taco-centric blog “Eat More Tacos,” and the junk food-centric “Spork & Barrel.” His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, “‘Wich, Please,” was named “Hottest Restaurant in Maine” for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

21 Comments

  1. This is a useful post- I’ve been wanting a special silicone egg poaching cup, but I hadn’t considered that it might create the same effects as your teacup method. I guess I’ll just stick to what I’ve been doing!

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  2. Fun post – I am obsessed with poached eggs 🙂 The silicone things are worthless though. They float and bob on top of the water and the top half of the egg doesn’t cook properly until way past perfect for the bottom half. Vinegar and vortex all the way, though I usually forget to vortex and just end up with an admittedly dirty pan. Must try soft boiling.

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  3. These recipes look tasty. But as a person who loves to cook and bake in my kitchen at home, I would simply offer a friendly recommendation. When using egg-based recipes, maybe try pasteurized shelled eggs. Especially when you have sunny-side eggs, (fried eggs,) raw cookie dough, anything to that affect which leaves some part of the egg raw. Only reason I say this is because I am concerned with what I eat,and also look at those who I’m cooking for. With all these recent egg recalls, you can never be to sure. You should check them out.

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  4. thanks for the several techniques you provided. i;m looking for a perfect egg poaching techniques. so far the vortex method with vinegar is the ONE. i was in New Haven and New York for years too. Now i’m in Baltimore.

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  5. The teacup method DOES work, but you did it wrong. You don’t let the water overflow into the teacups. The cups must be resting on the bottom of the saucepan but the water must not be deep enough that it enters the cups when they are placed in the pan. The eggs will cook evenly and be consistently the same shape every time. Timing determines how runny or solid the yolks come out, just as with hard boiled eggs.

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  6. I agree the vortex works best for one egg at a time… but what I NEVER see in the vortex discussion is how to do 2 at once? Cause let’s face it – one poached egg isn’t enough!

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