Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Poached eggs

Of the four poached eggs in my eggs florentine, only one emerged from the pan with a white neatly surrounding the yolk -- and it was not the one I had dropped into the centre of the whirling water first. I watched with envy recently as my brother-in-law prepared a perfect specimen. As with rice, you either have the knack or you do not. But appearance is not everything.

The theory is that you bring the water to the boil, stir it, and drop your egg into the centre of the whirlpool, encouraging the white to cohere round the yolk. I suspect that if it is going to cohere, it will do so no matter what you do; and if it is not, it will not.

Turn down the heat to the lowest simmer, so that the whites do not toughen. Some people think that salt in the water toughens the whites; in fact, it helps to keep them soft, as does vinegar.

Poached eggs take longer to set than the books advise, in my experience. Perhaps that is because I do not like runny yolks. Four to five minutes is about right.

I transfer the eggs to a wooden board to drain for a few moments. Not infrequently, I break one of the yolks when I lift them up again.

6 comments:

Jon Dennis said...

Hi Nicholas - it's the first time I've seen your blog. I searched it out after reading your interesting New Statesman column about risotto. Anyway the blog's great and I plan to be a regular reader.

Regarding poached eggs: I make poached eggs almost every morning for breakfast. Forget whirlpools, salt or vinegar - all unnecessary. All I do is wait until the water's boiling vigourously, take the pan off the heat and put the egg in. Return the pan to the heat and as soon as it starts to boil, remove from the heat and put a lid on. I find about 3 minutes right for me, as I like runny yolks. You may want to lift the egg off the bottom of the pan with a slotted spoon before putting the lid on.

Jon Dennis said...

I forgot to add - it's vital that the eggs are fresh. You may be able to get away with other methods of cooking eggs that are less than 100% fresh, but you can't poach them. Anything a bit borderline and the white will dissolve in the water.

Nicholas Clee said...

Thank you, Jon. You're the second person to recommend the heat off/lid on method: I must try it.

I tend to take Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking as gospel. When I wrote my book, I advised the use of salt and vinegar in the water, because he had stated that they tenderised egg proteins. What I did not spot, but have noticed now on checking, is that he had also written: "Adding salt and vinegar to the cooking water . . . does speed coagulation, but it also produces shreds and an irregular film over the egg surface."

He backs up your other recommendation: that you add the eggs to "water close to but not at the boil".

Alex said...

i haven't got E. David to hand but it was from one of her books that I learnt to put vinegar in. as far as I recall the reason was to keep the water from boiling too vigorously and thereby prevent the stiffening-protein effect you describe. As far as I'm concerned, if the eggs are fresh a slight flakiness is tolerable. However, since I like to eat my poached eggs on buttered toast, I find the vinegar an awkward contrast in this environment. (If I liked to eat my poached eggs on, say, shreded lettuce, it could be just the thing).

Alex said...

or on asparagus, which i love...

Nicholas Clee said...

I now follow Jon's method, recommended above (but allowing about 5 minutes), with no salt or vinegar. The whites cohere, but are not too firm. But I do add salt and vinegar (1tsp for 2 eggs) when I make scrambled eggs and omelettes.