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Perfect Poached Eggs

by Elaine Corn

What's the best way to poach an egg? They have a reputation for being more difficult than they really are, what with being surrounded by the twin mystiques of brunch and Hollandaise. In fact, poached eggs are the easiest to make -- provided you ignore classical techniques that use too much water kept at too high a temperature.

If you've tried to poach eggs in a vat of simmering water, you've seen the whites turn into balls of string and the yolks left to cook nearly alone. The eggs may have sunk or turned gray. It may disappoint you to learn that if you've poached eggs in little cups in simmering water in a pan on top of the stove, you actually haven't poached them all, but steamed them.

It doesn't have to be like this if you try the following easy poaching method. The method uses much less water than the big-pot procedure, and the water is kept at a temperature below a simmer. I promise you, it is foolproof and makes poaching eggs a joy.

First: Lose the big pot of water. Instead, retrieve a medium-sized skillet (10-inch diameter) that has a lid. If your skillet doesn't have a matching lid, try on some of your other lids -- one of them is bound to do the job. If not, you can cover the skillet with a baking sheet or large dinner plate. All right, go to the sink and fill the skillet with about 3 inches of water -- that's all. Put the skillet on high heat. Cover it to speed up the heating time. Meanwhile, for 4 eggs, crack one each into four small cups or bowls. You can use coffee cups, little Asian tea cups, custard cups or the little poaching cups that from the poaching set you will no longer be using.

Second: Put all cups of eggs on a plate, and have them convenient to the stove. When the water in the skillet boils, remove the cover. Add one tablespoon of plain vinegar to the water, and some salt. Vinegar helps the egg to hold its shape. Without it, the eggs will become skeins of protein tangling up in the water. When the salt goes in, it will actually raise the temperature of the water. Watch the bubbles. I happen to like the vinegar taste on the finished egg. If you don't, put the finished poached eggs in a bowl of water. This stops the cooking and washes away the vinegar. If you like the vinegar, try a splash of herbal, apple cider, or sherry vinegar.

Third: Lower the lip of each egg-cup 1/2-inch below the surface of the water. Let the eggs flow out. Immediately return the lid to the pan and turn off the heat. Set a timer for exactly three minutes for medium-firm yolks. Adjust the time up or down for runnier or firmer yolks. While the eggs cook, you have the time to make four pieces of toast, set the table, wash the empty cups, and put the buttered toast on plates. When the timer goes off, remove the cover. Ah! Lift each perfectly poached egg from the water with a slotted spoon, but hold it over the skillet briefly to let any water clinging to the egg drain off. Gently lay an egg on each piece of toast. And there you have it. Perfect poached eggs actually cooked in residual heat and not in the literal sense of the term, poached at all.

Poaching Eggs in Advance
The question always arises that if poached eggs are such great brunch food, how can they be served to a gathering at home? It's very easy, but requires about ten minutes of planning. Decide how many eggs you'll need. Each person should get two. For a party of six, 12 eggs may be poached, as above, in two skillets, with 6 in each -- all cooking at the same time. As they become done, put them in a big bowl of cold water. Refrigerate them, uncovered, up to three days. When the party is ready to eat, heat a Dutch oven full of water until it boils. Drop the eggs in -- again using the slotted spoon -- and simmer them about 30 seconds, just to warm through.


Elaine Corn is a Sacramento-based freelance writer and cooking teacher as well as the author of two books, Now You're Cooking for Company and Now You're Cooking

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