When I was a kid, my father used to make poached eggs for breakfast often, as much as once a week. I remember him heating the water in a pan, adding the vinegar, cooking the eggs, and removing them with a slotted spoon. When I became an adult and was living alone, I often poached a couple of eggs for dinner.
Many cooks avoid poached eggs, because they think poached eggs are difficult. And surely they do have that reputation. Getting a perfect poached egg can be challenging, but getting an edible (and tasty) but imperfect one is much more simple. And no, you don’t need an egg poacher to poach an egg.
When making poached eggs, some experts suggest that you should use the freshest eggs possible. Fresher eggs have thicker whites, are less likely to spread. and are more likely to form a nice poached-egg shape.
Martha Stewart probably uses the eggs from her own chickens to get those photo-perfect eggs in her magazines. Surely that helps, but I don’t have my own chickens. So I use organic or certified humane eggs from the grocery store or farmer’s market. If there’s more than one egg carton in the refrigerator, I use the eggs from the carton with the farthest-off expiration date. If you’re concerned about the uncooked yolk, you can use pasteurized eggs.
I put about 2 inches of water in a deep skillet with 1 tablespoon of vinegar and heat this to boiling. I then turn the heat way, way down so that the pan is not quite boiling (a simmer) but gently bubbling once in a while. While I’m cooking the poached eggs, I keep the water at this temperature. The water temperature is critical.
Next, I break an egg into a small dessert bowl, custard cup or ramekin. I lower the bowl into the water and tip it, so that the egg gently slides out of the bowl into the water. Putting your eggs in the water this way, instead of cracking them directly into the pan like my father did, gives the eggs neater edges.
I let the eggs stay in the water until the whites are just set and the yolks are still runny, about 3-5 minutes. While they’re cooking, I watch them carefully. If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to overcook poached eggs. If that happens, the eggs get rubbery. And they’re not very good that way.
Like Dad, I lift the eggs out of the skillet with a slotted spoon.
I serve my poached eggs over English muffins, toast, or another starch. As a side, sauteed spinach or fruit are nice. Poached eggs are also good with refried beans, rice, and salsa.