You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Is there a failsafe way to poach eggs?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 12/04/2019 Bob Granleese

Poached egg on piece of wholegrain bread with vegetables and herbs close up © Getty Poached egg on piece of wholegrain bread with vegetables and herbs close up Is there a failsafe way to poach eggs?

Charlotte, south London

While an egg poacher may seem the obvious solution, I’m #teamDelia where that particular gadget is concerned. As the nation’s cooking teacher proclaims on her website, poachers don’t work, because they “steam and toughen the eggs”, rather than poach them. (She adds that they’re “hell” to clean, too, but that’s another story.)

One man who knows a thing or two about poaching eggs is Miles Kirby, chef/director of the Caravan group of restaurants that has cornered the London brunch market, because he often cooks 20 of them at a time. His trick? “A deep pot of boiling water and a big splash of white-wine vinegar, all whisked to make a whirlpool into which you drop the eggs one by one.” It has to be boiling, Kirby says, because each egg makes the water temperature drop, calamitously so in the numbers he’s used to. He also advises breaking each egg into a ramekin or cup first, at least until you’ve earned your poaching stripes. “Turn off the heat – the water will keep at 90C for more than enough time to coagulate the protein in the whites – and wait.” Then lift out (a Chinese-style wire skimmer is the ideal tool), drain, trim and serve. (Kirby makes vast batches ahead of time, dunking the poached eggs in iced water to stop them cooking further, before reheating them to order in gently simmering water.)

Rye bread toast with poached egg, dairy cream, spices and arugula and cup of coffee on the gray slate background. Continental breakfast. Healthy food concept. Selective focus. Horizontal view. Copy space © Getty Rye bread toast with poached egg, dairy cream, spices and arugula and cup of coffee on the gray slate background. Continental breakfast. Healthy food concept. Selective focus. Horizontal view. Copy space Even so, Kirby says some breakage is “kind of inevitable”, especially at such volume, which is why many pros now “poach eggs at 63C in a Rational [combi oven]”. And we’ve all got one of those at home, right?

The science backs up the use of vinegar: according to Hervé This in his book Kitchen Mysteries, it “accelerates the coagulation of the part of the egg… in contact with the boiling solution”, so constraining the rest of the egg, “which can thus form a mass without dispersing into the solution”. The chemist and molecular gastronomist, who has worked on many of Heston Blumenthal’s more out-there projects, adds that salt has a similar, if less pronounced effect.

Feast perfectionist Felicity Cloake adopts a similar approach to Kirby’s, but takes an extra precaution by lobbing a big pinch of salt into the swirling water. But she uses only a drop of vinegar (and reckons malt vinegar works just as well as white-wine), adding it to the egg in the cup, rather than the water. She doesn’t drop the egg straight in, either, but semi-submerges the cup first, to “curb the more wayward tendrils of white”.

Gallery: 28 brilliant tips for cooking eggs perfectly every time [Lovefood]

Like just about everyone who has ever written on the subject, Cloake toes the culinary world’s party line that the freshness of the egg is crucial: “If your eggs are too old, then the whites won’t coagulate properly.” Which isn’t particularly helpful for anyone who doesn’t have access to a hen house, given that supermarket eggs can legally be weeks old by the time we get our mitts on them.

Step forward knight in shining armour Bill Granger, the Australian restaurateur and cookery writer who has converted more Brits to the ways of brunch than most. “Freshness, while important, isn’t the be all and end all in a domestic setting,” he argues. He gets around both this, and the breakage issue, by adapting the Chinese way of poaching chicken, in which stock is brought to a boil, then turned off before the bird’s dropped in, covered, and left to cook in the residual heat. “One day it struck me that if you can poach chicken this way, surely it would work on an egg,” Granger says.

Sandwich with avocado and poached egg © Getty Sandwich with avocado and poached egg There’s no vortex of water for the raw egg to negotiate, either, or need to use a setting agent such as vinegar. “Bring 5cm water to a boil in a shallow pan, turn off the heat and immediately add the egg, opening the shell at the water’s surface and sliding the egg gently into the water. Cover, then leave undisturbed for three minutes, until the whites go opaque.” It’s up to you whether or not to tidy them up afterwards. “At home it’s not worth the effort,” Granger says. “After all, who’s going to see?”

And you know what? If my own hugely unscientific experiments are anything to go by, Granger seems to have cracked it (cue groans).

• Do you have a culinary dilemma? Email feast@theguardian.com


More From The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon