The most foolproof way to enjoy perfectly poached eggs is to order them out at your favourite café – right?
It’s certainly the easy approach when one considers all the questions surrounding the poaching process: do you need to create a whirlpool? Vinegar or no vinegar? And what about all those nifty egg poachers you can buy these days – are they worth the money? And there's one other revolutionary idea you might not have heard of .... but more on that in a minute.
First up, the vinegar question.
In a bold move, Heston Blumenthal ditches vinegar in favour of salt before straining his eggs (we’re not surprised – after all, this is the man who’s turned bacon into ice-cream) but stresses the importance of using the freshest you can find. Kenji López-Alt at the Food Lab – where pretty much everything gets put to the test – is another who says straining and fresh eggs are key (watch Kenji show how he does it here).
There are many different approaches to poaching eggs – creating a whirlpool in the water, adding vinegar, etc. – but my approach in this recipe is very simple. It relies on using only the freshest egg –the white will be firmer and therefore the egg will hold together better in the water. And straining the eggs before cooking them to get rid of all the straggly bits is an important step.
Co-host of Food Detectives, chef Tom Kerridge, agrees that freshness is key to perfectly poached eggs, but unlike Heston, believes vinegar also helps.
“You don’t want a lot of vinegar – not enough to taste – but just enough for a chemical reaction,” Kerridge stresses, when SBS Food chats to him ahead of the show's debut. “A little bit of acid helps set the whites.”
The vinegar should be colourless (a distilled or white wine vinegar will work) and not a balsamic or aged malt variety that will turn the eggs brown.
As for how to overcome the very real risk of a decomposed, soggy egg, the English TV chef and gastro-pub king has a handy little trick that he believes is a game-changer. Which brings us to our first tip: step away from the gimmicky store-bought poaching tools.
Instead, try Tom's clever hack.
“What you do is you put your egg (while still in the shell) into a pot of boiling water and you roll it around for about ten seconds,” Kerridge instructs. “Then you remove it from the water.”
Once you’ve taken the egg out of the pot, add a splash of vinegar into the water and gently simmer it, stirring with a spoon.
“Do a whirlpool – but not one that’s spinning so fast it could sink a ship – just a nice gentle one that’s almost the speed of a second hand going around the clock,” Kerridge says.
Then, crack the egg back into the pot and simmer for about two minutes before draining it on a tea towel.
“What you’ve done just by that little process in the beginning is help the egg hold it shape."
Get your poach on: Turkish poached eggs in yoghurt (çılbır) makes a supremely satisfying breakfast.
Melbourne breakfast institution Rudimentary poaches around 700 eggs a week at their Footscray shipping container-turned café. Head chef Francisco Arbelo and sous chef Mark Ward crack fresh free-range eggs into water that has been brought to a rolling boil in a deep pot with plenty of vinegar (approximately 250ml of vinegar to five litres of water).
“There’s no need to stir,” the chefs agree, “just cook them for two minutes.”
According to Arbelo and Ward, the eggs are ready when the whites hold their shape but are still runny in the centre (wobbly but not too soft when poked).
Finish by removing the egg gently with a perforated spoon and draining it on a tea towel.
“If the egg flattens when being lifted out, it will need to be cooked for slightly longer,” the chefs explain.
At the French-leaning Bistro Gavroche in Sydney’s Chippendale, poached eggs aren’t just the order of the day at sunrise.
“One of my favourite dishes is a classic called Oeuf meurette and guests always ask for it,” says executive chef and owner Frederic Colin. The Burgundy dish involves poaching the eggs in a red wine and serving it with a meurette sauce (wine sauce) with bacon and pearl onions.
“It’s something you can eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is comfort food at its best.” Colin also favours organic free-range eggs straight out of the fridge over eggs that have been brought to room temperature.
“They’re fine straight from the fridge, as long as they’re fresh,” Kerridge agrees.
Lead image by Heather Joan via Flickr.
This little number is basically a version of eggs and bacon with toast, fairly standard breakfast fare yet in a fancy new incarnation. This dish highlights the gentle sweetness of spring onion.
This salad is a sort of free-form vegetarian nori roll with all the goodness of adzuki beans and brown rice, topped off with a poached egg. Grains and legumes are made for each other because together they form a complete protein, which is especially important if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet. I love using brown rice rather than white, not only for its nutritional advantages but because it has so much more flavour and texture. Serve the poached egg hot or at room temperature.
Mexican food is considered one of the world’s first fusion cuisines. This traditional corn cake recipe is normally served cold and here has been adapted so it can be sliced and grilled (broiled) before topping with crispy bacon, avocado and salsa mexicana. It’s French toast Mexican style! Maple or agave syrup can be included in this recipe with fresh bananas, if you have a sweet tooth.