Poaching eggs is a bit more complicated and delicate—these are nice ways of saying annoying—than frying them or scrambling them or hard-boiling them or throwing them at Rick Reilly, and so the question of how to poach them kinda naturally goes with the question of why to poach them. The true answer to the latter, of course, is that a person on the Internet is cajoling you to poach them. The minor accompanying reasons are that poached eggs are really fucking delicious and versatile, and therefore a cool foodstuff to know how to prepare.
Look. It's Saturday morning, you're sleepy and haggard and hungover, you look like shit and smell just awful and are several hours and cups of coffee away from any state of cognitive capacity that could meet even the most generous definition of the word sentience. Let's skip past the persuading-your-zombie-ass part and just make some poached eggs, OK? OK.
To start, fill a pot with 5 or 6 inches of water, plus a little bit of white vinegar and some salt. The deep water will allow a cracked egg to sink upon entry and then bob back to the surface without ever splatting against the hard bottom of the pot; this will enable your poached egg to take on a lovely ovoid shape not so unlike a teardrop, with the yolk in the middle. If that is not a thing for which you can muster any shits to give, fuck you! Do it anyway, just this one time, and then you can go back to half-assing your poached eggs and everything else in your goddamn life. Deal? Yes. Deal. Shut up and do it.
As for the white vinegar and salt, those are added to prevent the egg white from spreading in the water. How much of them you add depends on how big your pot is, which will determine how much water is required to fill it with 5 or 6 inches of water. There's a formula for this—an eighth of a cup of vinegar for each gallon of water—but it's problematic because a) ha ha, as if you have a measuring cup, and b) unless you are using a comically large pot, you won't need anywhere near a gallon of water to get 5 or 6 inches of water into it, and then there will be all kinds of complicated math involving least-common denominators and what not, and converting gallons to friggin' sevenths-of-gallons or whatever, and all in all it would be far better to just wrap yourself in prosciutto, go down to the zoo, and feed yourself to a bear.
Go by taste. Add, oh, what, a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to your water, stir it, and then taste it—does it taste like vinegar? No? Drizzle a tiny bit more in there, stir, and taste again. Now does it taste like vinegar? Maybe just a teeny tiny bit? OK. That's enough. (If you go overboard, don't be afraid to dump some of the liquid out and replace it with fresh water, tasting as you go, until it juuuuust tastes vinegary.)
As for the salt, eh, just a big fuggin' pinch of the shit. You're just gonna die someday anyway. Heat this pot of salty, vinegary water to a low boil.
Now, while that's heating up, a word on eggs. The sadly inescapable truth of poached eggs is that—unlike with, say, scrambled eggs, where the difference between farm-fresh eggs and the ones that have been sitting in an egg carton in your fridge since 1993 is mitigated somewhat when you beat the shit out of them, and then mitigated some more by the cheese you rightly cook into them unless you are stupid—there's a pretty goddamn dramatic difference between a poached fresh egg and a poached not-so-fresh egg.
This difference reveals itself primarily in the egg white. A farm-fresh egg will hold together beautifully in the poaching liquid and produce a smooth, gorgeous orb of egg white with a runny yolk perfectly centered inside. An egg white that has spent the better part of the past year locked inside an eggshell in your refrigerator will behave exactly as you would if you spent months and months in a tiny egg-shell prison, and then were set free only to be dumped into a vat of boiling water: It will freak the fuck out and run all over the place, and in the end, you will fish from a poaching liquid lousy with amorphous blobs of foamy egg white a partially hardened yolk sheathed in a millimeter-thick white veil, and that will be very sad, even though it will still likely taste OK.
This is to say that, if you can, you should try to poach the freshest eggs you can find. Whether this means buying a carton of supermarket eggs the night before you intend to poach them, or going down to your local annoying gourmet whole food grocer-type place to get some organic free-range locavore whatever-the-fuck eggs, or skedaddlin' down t'yonder holler to shake one o' Cousin Skeeter's hens 'til she drops one in your hand will largely depend on where you live, what you can afford, and whether your visitin' overalls are done dryin' on the broomstick out back. Decide for yourself. And, ultimately, if the best you can do is to give it a go with the eggs that you've had in the fridge for a while, it's not the end of the world. Your poached eggs will still taste a lot better than wheat germ, by God.
And hey whoa wouldja lookit that, the water came to a low boil while you were dozing off during that egg-freshness lecture just now. Lower the heat a tad so that the water never gets more agitated than a low boil—the egg will cool the water some, so don't turn the heat all the way to low; just knock it down a smidge. Crack one egg into a small bowl or mug, but not directly into the water. You're trying to avoid a sudden, violent, glunk! entry into the water for your egg, to ensure it holds together and cooks evenly. Take the small bowl or mug, lower it very close to the gently roiling surface of the water, and smoothly pour the egg into the water in one motion. (Incidentally, this is the smart way to do it when you're frying eggs, too, even if cracking them directly onto the sizzling cooking surface is a lot more fun.)
The egg will immediately sink nearly all the way to the bottom of the water, and then begin to rise again. See how, even though it is wobbly and liquid, the egg white essentially hangs together in there? No? That's because you used a really goddamn old egg—but if you had used fresh eggs, in some bizarro universe in which that's a thing you'd do, you'd see the white holding its shape in there, forming a pretty, clean, smooth-looking teardrop. Man, that would be really cool, wouldn't it?
You have about three minutes until it's done cooking, during which time it doesn't need any help from you, thankyouverymuch; toast, and very lightly butter, a slice of whole wheat sandwich bread while you wait, then stick that slice of toast on a plate.
Three minutes have gone by; grab a slotted spoon and, very gently, extract the egg from the water. Fold up a couple of paper towels on your off-hand and gently set the poached egg on them for a few moments, so they can draw some of the excess water off the egg. Now, set the egg on the slice of toast. There. You have poached an egg.
Huh. Looks pretty lonely on there, doesn't it? Go ahead, make another. We'll wait.
Grind some black pepper onto your poached eggs, sprinkle them with a little bit of salt, and serve them with a few thin slices of Nova salmon or smoked salmon or lox, either on the eggs or under them or just piled attractively off to the side; the salty fish will taste goddamn incredible with some of that runny yolk, and since you didn't cook your eggs in a bunch of grease, you can eat them with something fatty and rich like oily salmon without spending the rest of the day feeling as though you have killed yourself and your nervous system just hasn't acknowledged it yet. Or, hell, bacon's OK, too—the Canadian variety or the not-stupid kind—but really, go with the salmon. Life-changing. Also: orange juice.
That right there is one tidy, good-looking, delicious, vivifying breakfast. Using the tines of your fork, puncture the eggs and watch the pretty yellow-orange liquid yolk run out across the toast. Looks yummy, doesn't it? Clean and simple and bright and, oh man, is it making you drool? Yes it is. And hey, it wasn't really all that big a pain in the ass to prepare, was it?
Brrrraaaaaiinnnsssss doesn't really count as an answer. Have some coffee, willya?
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at firstname.lastname@example.org, or publicly and succinctly on Twitter @albertburneko. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
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