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How to Make Perfect Poached Eggs Every Time

March 29, 2024

Scrambled, hard boiled, fried — eggs are delicious, convenient, and great for you no matter how you make them. Plus, they’re fairly simple to master. Except for one style, the one that seems to confound even experienced cooks: Poached eggs.

There are several approaches that different cooks swear by, like adding vinegar to the water, swirling the water into a mini-whirlpool, etc. We’ve tried them all. And though we don’t claim that there’s only one “right” way to do it — we firmly believe that there are many ways to cook well and if something works for you, then it works — we have found this to be the simplest and most foolproof. Here’s our take on the best way to make perfect poached eggs.

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What is poaching?

Poaching is a gentle cooking technique in which you cook food submerged in a liquid that’s heated to between 160ºF and 180ºF. It’s a gentler method than simmering, which takes place when the liquid reaches 185ºF. Cooking eggs in this method leaves them tender, with the white and yolk distinct. Usually the yolk is left runny, though you can poach until the yolk is firmer, if you prefer it that way.

You can poach other foods as well, including salmon, chicken, vegetables, and fruit. Poached pears are a popular dessert, and you can poach others as well — fresh fruit like peaches, pineapple, or cherries, or dried fruit such as prunes or figs. You’ll often find poached chicken in chicken salads, and poached salmon is an elegant buffet dish served warm or cold with an herb sauce. 

In terms of the liquid itself, you can use water, of course, but you also can poach items in broth, wine, milk, tea, oil, or other liquids. And you can flavor the poaching liquid with herbs, spices, citrus, soy sauce, or other ingredients.

Why make poached eggs?

There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to master poached eggs.

  1. Eggs benedict. If you love this brunch classic (who doesn’t?) and want to make it at home, poached eggs know-how is a must.
  2. Lower in fat. If you are watching your fat intake or prefer to keep your eating within certain macros, it’s helpful to know how to poach eggs, since the method doesn’t require added fat. 
  3. Bragging rights. We’re not above this. Many people find poached eggs challenging to make, so it’s fun to be great at it. 

How to make poached eggs

Here’s our step-by-step guide:

  1. Start with fresh eggs. The fresher the eggs, the better. As eggs sit, the whites become runnier, and they tend to dissipate in the water. You’re going for neat, contained, whole-looking poached eggs, so it’s helpful if they’re firm to start with.
  2. Boil your water. Fill a large skillet or pot that’s at least a few inches deep with water, and add a small pinch of salt. Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. 
  3. Strain the eggs. This is key. Crack an egg into a small fine-mesh strainer. Carefully transfer the egg from the strainer into a cup or ramekin. This will remove any watery parts of the white and leave you with just the thicker part of the white and the yolk — this will get you that neat, cohesive white in the final product. Repeat this step with however many eggs you’re poaching.
  4. Add the eggs. When you’re ready to cook, stir the water gently in one spot to create a small whirlpool, then tip the egg gently into the center of the whirlpool. This helps keep any stray bits of egg white from floating off into the water. Repeat with the other eggs. 
  5. Poach. Let the eggs cook until the whites are set. This takes about 3 minutes, though it can be as little as just over 2 minutes or to up to 4, depending on how firm you want the yolks. 
  6. Remove. Use a slotted spoon to lift an egg out of the water. Blot the bottom of the spoon on some paper towels to remove excess water from the egg and place the egg on a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggs and serve.

More tips

  1. When adding the eggs to the skillet, start at the top, 12 o’clock if it was a clockface. Move around the skillet in a clockwise fashion to add more, so you know the order in which you added the eggs.
  2. Be gentle. When adding the eggs to the skillet, do it gently, so the egg stays as close to the surface as possible. 
  3. Don’t overcrowd the skillet. You can cook the eggs in batches. If you need to keep them warm, place them in a bowl filled with hot tap water and cover. 
  4. You can make poached eggs in advance (great for meal prep). Simply transfer the poached eggs to a bowl of cold water, cover and refrigerate. Rewarm them by placing them in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. Poached eggs will keep for up to 4 days in the fridge.

Read next: 7 Delicious Ways to Use Up Leftover Hard Boiled Eggs

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