The Learn To Cook series encourages home cooks to learn the techniques needed for guaranteed success in the kitchen, sponsored by the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School. Start a free trial membership today.
We all have a culinary white whale, and mine is poaching an egg. It’s the only thing that’s gotten me angry enough to throw a pan at a wall. I find poaching an egg more frustrating that whipping up egg whites by hand, more difficult than artfully jerking a sauté pan, more chancy than making a soufflé. The mere thought of egg poaching makes me break out in a cold sweat.
Fortunately, as the editor of the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School, I have access to some of the best cooking science and instruction I could ever want. So, when I saw a delicious recipe featuring a poached egg this weekend, I didn’t try to substitute a fried one. Instead, I sat down with my laptop, a half dozen eggs, and the Essential Eggs course in an attempt to finally learn to poach an egg without fear. A few perfect eggs later, I’m ready to share some Cooking School secrets with you.
1. Use a skillet, not a sauce pan. If you’ve ever poached an egg in a pot of simmering water before, you know what happens: The egg hits the top of the water and sinks to the bottom, where the rising bubbles bounce it around. It leaves long, messy strings of white behind, resulting in a sloppy final product. By poaching the egg in a shallow pan, you limit its ability to move around. This gives it a chance to set without leaving those unattractive streamers of egg white all over the place.
2. Add some vinegar or lemon juice. Acids help to “cook” proteins in a very similar way to heat. By adding a tablespoon of mild vinegar or lemon juice, you speed up the setting process. The quicker the white of the egg sets, the neater your final product will look and the fewer sad, frayed specimens you’ll have to deal with. The day I chucked my pan at a wall was the day that I ran out of white vinegar and thought, “How important could that be?”
3. Boil shmoil. As I mentioned previously, the bubbles from boiling or simmering catch the edges of the egg white and cause it to fray messily into streamers. Rather than attempting to keep water at exactly 211.9 degrees, bring the water to a full boil, and then remove the pan from the heat. The residual heat will be more than enough to set the whites. Plus, with this method you can set a timer and walk away instead of spending the whole 5-8 minutes fiddling with the burner to get that perfect balance of simmering and stillness.
4. Don’t crack eggs into the water. Okay, I know it’s dramatic to crack an egg directly into a pan of boiling water, but not only will you not get a pretty result, but you’ll also end up with over- and under-cooked eggs because you can only crack one egg (maybe two if you’re a rockstar in the kitchen) at a time. Instead of cracking eggs into the water one at a time, crack them into tea cups and then slide the eggs gently into the water. If you need a bunch of poached eggs all at once, you can crack two into each tea cup and hold two tea cups in each hand. With the wide, shallow pan that you’re using (see rule #1, above), you can poach 8 eggs at a time, resulting in the speediest brunch ever.
Want to practice poaching eggs right now? The Cooking School has a Recipe Lesson for Salade Lyonnaise, but don’t stop there. A poached egg can dress up any salad, making it an elegant and filling meal. Or you could use your egg poaching prowess to impress Mom with a fabulous Mother’s Day brunch. Once you’ve learned the basic technique, you can use it again and again.
What technique would you like to learn at the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School? Tell me in the comments!