Perfect poached eggs

May 14, 2009 | By | Comments (11)

I have tried for years to poach eggs. Among the sins I’ve committed against the egg: sour whites (too much vinegar in the water); rubbery whites (water too hot); a shape that looks like a tentacled sea creature (water not hot enough, or possibly not enough vinegar to set the whites before they trail off).Not to go on about it, but my poached eggs are ugly and unpleasant. Sure, I could resort to an egg poacher. They’re available in most cookware and houseware stores. The eggs they produce are shapely, but often when the yolk is perfect, the whites are still jiggly. I really hate that.

Plus, I’m aching to poach. Our just-laid eggs are so perky and fresh, and there is no better way to show off a good egg than to poach it.

That’s why I’m so excited to have gleaned two poaching tips recently: the first from Angelo Garro, the blacksmith-forager-cook from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, who demonstrated his way with poaching at Slow Food Nation last fall; and the other from our contributor Charity Ferreira, who knows her way around an egg and proved it with a story for Sunset on pasture-raised eggs. Together, their hints make the ultimate, can’t-mess-it-up poached egg, with yolk barely set and whites cooked. Here’s what you do:

Perfect Poached Eggs

Preamble: Bring water to a gentle simmer (not a boil, which is too violent) in a saucepan, enough to cover your eggs. At the same time, bring about 2 inches of water to a gentle simmer in a large frying pan (especially useful when you’re poaching more than one egg). No vinegar necessary.


1. Simmer in the shell first: Immerse your egg (s) gently into the saucepan of water (I don’t have quite enough water in the photo above). Simmer it for exactly 15 seconds. This causes a very thin outer layer of white to firm up and form a delicate casing. Thank you, Mr. Garro.


2. Crack the egg right away into a spouted measuring cup. Then touch the spout to the surface of the simmering water in the frying pan and slip the egg in. Getting the egg so close to the water means there’s less disturbance of its shape. Thank you, Charity.


3. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until the egg is softly set. Lift it out with a slotted spoon (to let the water drain) and slide it onto your plate. It’s nice if you’ve warmed the plate or bowl first, so your egg stays hot.


A perfect poached egg. All you need now is buttered toast.


  1. Grilled Caesar Salad | Guts and Gold

    […] for their skins… Novice EGG poacher, the good kind… you know know what I mean! I used this Perfect Poached Eggs trick but I lengthened the time the whole egg was in the water. 15 seconds did nothing to form a […]

    October 30, 2014 at 10:35 am
  2. Leslie Renaud

    Not too bad. I tried it, and while it helped a bit, I found the ‘skin’ that was created from the pre-boil stuck mostly to the shell. It still didn’t spread like they usually do, but I didn’t get that perfect shape, either. Still searching…oh, and I’ve tried the vortex. It’s fine if you only want one egg at a time, but if you want several, you end up swirling the previously deposited eggs into the vortex (which ruins their shape), as you work another one in.

    August 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm
  3. Marjorie

    Thank you! I understand that many eggs can be pre-poached, drained, and held overnight in the frig, to be reheated and assembled for a group the next day. In such a case, should the initial cooking time be decreased and/or how does one re-warm the eggs safely? Slip them back into simmering water? I assume they’d be gently wrapped in paper towels for the storage.

    December 23, 2010 at 2:06 am
  4. deb

    Let’s not forget Julia’s advice The eggs must be fresh!)

    July 24, 2010 at 1:47 am
  5. Andrea

    Hi Kathy, Can more than one egg be cooked at a time with your boil first method? I like 2 eggs or 4 if my husband is eating with. Andrea

    August 9, 2009 at 5:11 pm
  6. Margo True

    Carol, thank you for your method. I learned to make poached eggs that way in cooking school, and somehow it doesn’t work for me–I end up with tough, sour whites. (Maybe my “dollop” of vinegar is a bit too hearty.) But that’s the beauty of cooking: There are often many paths to the same end, and the key is finding the one that works for you. I appreciate your writing in.

    June 12, 2009 at 5:10 am
  7. Carol

    Your method sounds complicated. I just:
    -break a fresh egg into a cup
    – in a 3-4 qt. saucepan, bring to a light boil about three inches of water and a dollop of wine vinegar
    -using a spoon, swirl the water creating a vortex in the middle
    -gently pour the egg into the middle of the vortex of swirling water
    -cook to desired doneness
    -lift out the egg with a slotted spoon and place on a folded up paper towel to drain away the water.
    -plop in a dish on top of toast

    June 9, 2009 at 3:03 pm
  8. Margo True

    Kathy, you may not have had enough water in your frying pan. You want to give the egg a little cushion of liquid beneath it so it’ll float above the bottom as it cooks. And yes, your high altitude definitely affects the cooking time, since water at 4,000 feet boils at a lower temperature than it does at sea level. 30 seconds sounds about right, but you’ll probably have to sacrifice a few eggs to experimentation before you get it just right.

    May 28, 2009 at 5:21 am
  9. KathyG

    Ok, it all worked smoothly, but the eggs stuck to the pan slightly (well-seasoned cast iron frying pan) any idea why? Also I’m thinking I might extend the in-the-shell simmer to 30 seconds. The second one I took out of the water (in longer) came out better than the first, and I’m wondering if it has to do with my elevation of nearly 4000 ft?

    Anyway, thanks again for the instructions. I’m going to do it again today. Poached eggs ‘r’ us!

    May 16, 2009 at 1:44 pm
  10. Margo T

    Glad to help, Kathy. Good tips are meant to be shared.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:17 am
  11. KathyG

    Wow! I was just wishing I knew how to make poached eggs — seriously — and here is this recipe. I will now rush out and try it. Way to have timing, guys! 🙂

    May 14, 2009 at 3:33 pm

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