If you've ever made poached eggs and ended up with a foamy mess of egg whites, there are a couple of reasons why this may be happening. The first is that your eggs are not fresh enough. Unlike boiled eggs, where you want older eggs, for poached eggs, you want the eggs to be as fresh as possible. This is because the albumen, or egg white, is almost like a gel when the egg is freshly laid, but it becomes looser and more watery as the egg ages.
The second possibility is that it is taking your eggs too long to set, giving the egg whites a chance to feather out and mix with the water, this is usually caused by the water not being hot enough.
The final problem is that the water is turbulent, which causes the albumen to bloom before it has a chance to set. This is usually caused by the water being at a boil when you add the eggs, or it could be caused by how you are lowering the eggs into the water.
I know the last two reasons sound like a contradiction, so keep reading to learn how to solve it.
The first thing is that you need to use very fresh eggs. I usually make poached eggs as soon as I buy a pack of eggs, and then make boiled eggs as they get older (older eggs are easier to peel). But even if you buy the freshest eggs possible, there could still be some loose albumen, which is why I break my eggs into a wire-mesh strainer first to drain off the watery parts.
The second thing I do is to put the eggs into individual ramekins. Remember that rule about not creating turbulence? If you break an egg above the water, it's going to fall some distance until it hits the bottom of the pot. This creates turbulence, which can create wispy fluff. If you put the eggs into individual bowls, you can lower the whole bowl into the hot water and slowly tip the egg out, which minimizes the amount of turbulence.
The biggest challenge with poaching eggs is that you want the water as hot as possible, so the egg sets quickly, but if the water is boiling, the turbulence will make a mess. The compromise is to bring the water up to a rolling boil, and then turn the heat down and wait until the water stops boiling before adding the eggs. This ensures the water is as hot as possible with very little turbulence.
Now you just need to let the eggs poach until the yolk reaches your desired doneness. I like to let mine poach for about 3 minutes, is usually enough time to set the egg white fully, but leaves the yolk molten and creamy. You can check the doneness of the eggs by lifting an egg out of the water with a slotted spoon and poking the yolk. The firmer the yolk is, the more well done it is.
The most common things I hear of people adding to the poaching liquid is vinegar, salt, or baking soda. Vinegar does help set the albumen more quickly, which helps prevent feathering, but people with a keen sense of smell can taste the vinegar in the poached egg, which is why I don't recommend adding it. Salt can be added if you want as it will help season the egg, but it has no impact on how quickly the egg white sets and is not necessary. As for baking soda, I'm not sure where this idea comes from, but it has no impact on setting the egg, and it gives the eggs a metallic taste, so don't add it.
Creating a whirlpool by rapidly stirring the hot water before lowering your egg into the center does work; however, you can only poach one egg at a time with this method, which limits its practicality.
There are a lot of factors that can influence how long the egg will take to poach, including the temperature of your eggs, and the altitude at which you are trying to poach them, but assuming you follow the directions in this guide, 2 minutes will give you a very runny yolk with partially cooked egg whites. 3 minutes will give you a soft runny yolk and fully cooked whites. 4 minutes will give you a partially cooked gooey yolk. 5 minutes will give you a mostly set yolk, and anything over 6 minutes will give you a fully cooked hard yolk.
Because of the prep involved, many restaurants will poach their eggs in advance. If you want to do this, I recommend preparing an ice water bath and quickly chilling your poached eggs to prevent carry-over cooking from the residual heat. Once they've cooled off, you can store them on a few sheets of paper towels until you're ready to eat them. To reheat them you can put them back in a hot water bath for about a minute.
Poached eggs are delicious with a dash of sea salt and a sprinkle of cracked pepper, or in Eggs Benedict, but they have so many more uses as a quick way to add color, protein or richness to a dish. They make for a mouthwatering topping on my Kimchi Pork Belly Pizza and are equally good atop a bowl of Pasta Carbonara.
- 4 large eggs
- Break one egg at a time into a wire mesh sieve and let the less viscous part of the albumen drain for a few seconds.
- Transfer the drained egg into a small bowl or ramekin and repeat with the remaining eggs.
- Bring a large, heavy-bottomed pot (such as a dutch oven) with 2-inches of water to a boil.
- Turn down the heat to low and wait until the water is almost still.
- Submerge the edge of each bowl into the hot water, until it hits the bottom of the pot. Then, gently tip the egg out of the bowl. Repeat with all four bowls.
- Let the eggs cook until they reach your desired doneness. Three minutes will yield an egg with a fully cooked white and molten yolk, but you can cook them longer if you want the yolk to be firmer. You can lift an egg out of the water and gently poke it with your finger to gauge how firm the yolk is.
- When the eggs are done, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and allow them to drain on paper towels. If the egg is stuck to the bottom of the pan, you can use a spatula to release it.