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Back to Basics

Sometimes, it’s the basic things that can trip you up…..

When I was working on the menu for the upcoming classes in Atlanta, I was asked to add Hollandaise Sauce and Poached Eggs to the Roasted Asparagus dish. Since the asparagus dish already has lemon flavor in it, seemed like a reasonable addition for a brunch class. I’ve always done the asparagus as an appetizer or side for a dinner class – not sure why – just always have.

I’ve also never done poached eggs in a class. Always thought of that as kind of a basic thing and didn’t put in on a menu. Since I’ve poached eggs, but never taught them, figured I needed to figure out the best way to write up and teach a poached egg recipe. I thought it would be pretty simple, but as I got into it, I found that if you had 4 chefs in a room, you would probably have about 5 different variations on how to poach an egg.

This weekend, we had thirteen 8th grade girls spending the weekend at our house as part of DNow for our church. Since we have the basement and it’s a great spot for kids to hangout, we’ve been volunteering as a host home the last few years. Believe it or not, I found myself at home along for a number of hours Saturday evening. Lori went with the 8th graders to dinner and on to the evening program, Carly was with the 10th graders and I sort of had the house to myself.

I had made breakfast for 17 and found myself with plenty of eggs left over. I decided that my dinner would be a great time to experiment and poach a few eggs.

I started as I usually do – looking up the way others have written up how to poach eggs. I checked all of the “usual suspects” – Joy of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Cookwise, Jacques Pepin’s Complete Technique, Cooking School Secrets, Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook and my recently acquired copy of The Food Lab.

There were a few things that everyone agreed on – to minimize on the spreading of the whites when you poach, you want the freshest eggs you can find. You want to ease them into the water – most suggested cracking the eggs into a small bowl or cup and using that to put the eggs in the water. After that – vinegar in the water or no vinegar, salt or no salt, simmer, boil or not, put them in cold water after you’re done or not. Why Julia even had you place the eggs in boiling water for 10 seconds before cracking them.

Since it was just me, I decided to work with just plain water and salt it. I would try doing the eggs just plain as I usually do. I decided if Julia said it, I would try it, so I also decided to plunge the eggs in boiling water for 10 seconds before I cracked them. I didn’t think 10 seconds would make much of a difference, but it actually did. Unfortunately, I was already up to 4 eggs which was more than enough for dinner, so the vinegar experiment would have to wait. (As an aside, it did seem that the folks who suggested using vinegar agreed on the amount – 1 tablespoon per quart of water.)

Also, since this was kind of a last minute thing, I didn’t drag the lights or plates out to take pictures – as you can see, might have been a mistake – white eggs on white plates. Oh well….

So, here’s the first set of eggs:


When I put the eggs in the water, the whites immediately feathered out in the water while the egg started to cook. I had the water at a simmer and cooked them for 4 minutes. I pulled them out with a slotted spoon. A lot of the wispy whites were left behind in the water (as you will see in a minute). The yolks were sitting up nicely on the whites.

So, now to the next pair. I brought the water back to a boil and put the eggs into the boiling water for 10 seconds. I then fished them out and cracked them into a small prep bowl. I put them back into the water and immediately noticed that the whites did not feather out – so the 10 second dip did help. One egg cooked perfectly and the other one had the white float just a bit.


So here is the second set of eggs cooking – hard to see under the foam and wispy whites left behind by the first pair. After 4 minutes I pulled them out with a slotted spoon and put them on the paper towels. Realizing that the eggs were almost impossible to see in the pictures, I went ahead and toasted a couple of English muffins to put them on. Hopefully, you can see them just a bit better.


The two in the back were the first batch and the two in the front were the second batch. As you may be able to tell, the whites of the second batch survived much better and there is a lot more of them than the first batch. The front left egg was the one that cooked perfectly and the front right egg is the one where the white folded on top of itself, but at least didn’t feather out. So, the real test is how is the middle?


I used a fork to cut into each of the eggs and the center was just what I was looking for – still with some runny yellow but thick around the edges. The final test was the most difficult – I just had to eat them. They were cooked exactly the way I wanted and tasted great with the English muffins. The only thing missing was the Canadian bacon and Hollandaise – but that’s another time.

I still need to retest with the whole vinegar thing, but that will be another day…..

I went ahead and wrote the vinegar into the recipe as an option….

Poached Eggs

Servings: 4

8 Eggs
1 tablespoons vinegar per quart of poaching water, Optional
1/2 teaspoon sea salt per quart of poaching water

Add the poaching water to a saucepan. Add the vinegar if using, and salt and bring the water to a boil. Place the eggs into the boiling water for 10 seconds. Reduce the heat until the water is at a bare simmer. Crack the eggs one at a time into a small bowl. Lower each of the eggs into the simmering water. Cook for 4 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the egg from the simmering water and place the egg onto a paper towel (or into a bowl of cold water if you used the vinegar). Repeat until all of the eggs are cooked.

You can make the eggs ahead and keep them in cold water until ready to serve. When ready to serve, put the eggs into hot water (140-150 degrees) for about two minutes.

Serve them however you would like…..

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