How to Poach Eggs to Perfection

How would you like to make the best poached eggs, ever?

Vertical image of a poached egg broken to show the yellow yolk, on a bed of steamed spinach with red pimientos and a sprig of green basil for garnish, on a blue and white patterned plate, with a folded purple and blue cloth napkin with a fork on top in the background, on a tan granite countertop.
A poached à la Florentine presentation.

I know, I know – you can boil, fry, and scramble, but seldom, if ever, poach. Right?

Not to worry. You’ve come to the right place.

Vertical top-down image of two poached eggs sprinkled with salt and pepper on a white plate with an orange rim, with two pieces of white gluten-free toast cut in half diagonally and topped with orange marmalade.

Poaching is simply cooking in water that has come to a boil and then been reduced to about 180°F.

The eggs float freely with their shells removed, suspended in the liquid and cooking evenly on all sides. Then, you scoop them out to serve as an entrée, or they can be used to add a protein-rich garnish to a wide array of dishes.

We’ll start with our easy stovetop recipe. Then, read on for more cooking tips and serving suggestions, as we explore poaching eggs to perfection.

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Closeup of a poached egg broken to expose the soft-cooked yolk, on a bed of steamed spinach with red pimiento peppers and a sprig of basil, on a white and blue willow patterned plate.

The Best Poached Eggs


  • Author: Nan Schiller
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 serving

Description

Do you know how to poach eggs?It’s easy to prepare them on the stovetop with these easy instructions.


Ingredients

  • 3 cups water, or more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar (optional)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 large eggs

Instructions

  1. Combine the water, vinegar, and salt in a small pan with shallow sides, using enough water to fill the pan do a depth of 1-1.5 inches.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. While the water is heating, break each egg into a custard cup.
  4. As soon as the water reaches a boil, turn off the heat but keep the pan on the hot burner.
  5. When boiling stops, swirl the water. As you do so, ease the custard cup into the center of the swirl, and let the egg slip out. Repeat this for the second one, leaving space between them.
  6. Cover immediately, and poach 3 minutes for soft yolks, and up to 5 for firm.
  7. Remove eggs with the slotted spoon immediately when they’re done how you like them, and drip briefly drip dry. Serve warm.

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Assemble Supplies and Ingredients

Collect your pan, two custard cups, measuring cup and spoon teaspoon, slotted spoon, vinegar, salt, eggs, and water.

In place of custard cups, ramekins, mugs, or dessert dishes could also be used. You’re looking for something that you can crack the eggs into and then gently slip them into the water without breaking the yolks.

Vertical image of a stainless steel frying pan, two small glass custard dishes, a plastic jug of white distilled vinegar, a metal slotted spoon, a metal teaspoon, an orange salt shaker, two white eggs on a brown coaster, and a glass pitcher-style measuring cup, on a tan speckled countertop.

You may premeasure the ingredients, or measure as you go along since everything will be going in to the same pot at the beginning of the recipe.

Step 2 – Prepare the Water

Combine the water, vinegar, and salt in your pan and bring to a boil.

A hand pours a metal teaspoon of white vinegar into a frying pan of water, on a tan granite countertop beside a glass measuring pitcher.

The vinegar in the mix helps to firm the whites, making for a more compact and less wispy consistency.

The use of salt here is optional. Some cooks say salt thins the whites, others say it accelerates boiling and enhances flavor. It’s up to you, and we recommend trying it for yourself, and seeing which method and ingredients you like best.

Vertical image of a hand shaking an orange salt shaker into a frying pan of water, with a plastic jug of distilled vinegar in the background on a tan granite countertop.

The use of vinegar is also optional. It aids in firming up the whites, but you may detect a faint hint of vinegar flavor in the final product.

Step 3 – Prep

While the water is heating, break one egg into each custard cup. Crack them carefully, so you don’t break the yolks.

Top-down view of a raw egg cracked into a small glass bowl, on a tan speckled granite background.

They will be added to the water individually.

Step 4 – Place in the Pan

Turn off the stove as soon as the water reaches a boil, or 212°F. Allow the bubbling to subside, and the temperature to decrease to around 180°F, but not cooler.

You can check it with a digital thermometer if you like, especially the first time you make this recipe. But visual cues and timing should be enough to let you know that the water is no longer at a rolling boil, but still very hot.

Vertical image of a small glass dish with a raw egg in it being poured into a stainless frying pan filled with an inch of water, on a black flat-topped electric stove with a white wall in the background.

Swirl the water with your slotted spoon and ease the first custard cup into the center, letting the egg slip out.

Repeat with the second one, leaving space between the two.

Adding them in this way keeps the whites compact.

Step 5 – Poach

Cover and poach in the pan on the hot burner for three to five minutes. The burner should remain off – residual heat is enough to do the cooking here!

An egg is poaching in a frying pan of water with a clear glass lid on top, with condensation forming on the lid, on a black flat-topped electric stove with a white wall in the background.

The longer they cook, the firmer the yolks will be. Try not to peek, because you’ll let the heat out.

Clear pot lids can be helpful if you’re impatient (or if you’re cooking with the kids, who will enjoy seeing the transformation from translucent to opaque whites), though they will gather condensation and become a little bit difficult to see through.

Step 6 – Test for Doneness

You may test for desired doneness by pressing the yolk area gently with your slotted spoon.

A metal slotted spoon scoops a poached egg out of a frying pan of water.

A soft-cooked yolk will give easily, medium will dent slightly, and firm yields very little.

Step 7 – Remove and Serve

Using your slotted spoon, gently remove each egg from the pan.

Vertical image of a poached egg in a slotted spoon held over a frying pan of water with floating bits of the white, on a black electric flat-topped stove.

Drip dry and serve warm.

Cooking Tips

Are you still with me?

Great!

Here are some handy tips to hone your poaching skills:

1. Use a Shallow Pan

A good quality shallow pan will cook evenly and allow you to ease your custard cups into the water. If the pan has high sides, they will plop into the water and fan out widely, creating many drippy threads and a less compact shape.

And, when cooking a large quantity, use a pan large enough for free floating without attaching to one another while they poach.

2. No Fuss with Nonstick

Even the perfectly poached leave some white behind. For easy cleanup, use nonstick cookware.

3. Simmer Down

For the smoothest whites, always add eggs to the pan after you turn off the burner and the boiling has died down. Otherwise, you may have small indentations in the whites from the tiny water bubbles.

An egg is being poached in a frying pan of water on a flat-top electric stove with a white wall in the background.

4. Trim into Shape

If you find that you have irregular, drippy edges on your whites, just trim them away before serving, and enjoy them with a little salt and pepper as a cook’s treat.

5. Drip or Towel Dry

In addition to a quick drip dry, you may dab the bottom of the slotted spoon with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Just be careful not to break the yolks!

6. Fresh Is Best

Above all else, home and professional cooks agree that when it comes to poaching, the fresher the eggs, the better they will cook, and the better they taste.

Serving Suggestions

I have recently sought out new breakfast horizons and am happy to report that I’ve traded in my red jam for orange marmalade on my toast. And nothing goes better with it than two medium-poached eggs to get my day off to an energetic start.

Closeup of a poached egg sprinkled with black pepper and broken open to show a vibrant orange soft-cooked center, on a white plate with another poached egg and white toast topped with orange marmalade.

But for a company brunch, when I need a little more panache, my go-to favorite is Eggs Benedict, the classic dish that features hollandaise sauce, ham, and a crusty English muffin.

Another dish my family often asks for is a savory sweet potato hash. It’s especially delicious saturated with warm yolks and makes for a festive breakfast that brings everyone to the table.

Closeup of a poached egg broken to expose the soft-cooked yolk, on a bed of steamed spinach with red pimiento peppers and a sprig of basil, on a white and blue willow patterned plate.

And don’t limit yourself to breakfast. Try serving them Florentine-style over a bed of spinach for lunch, or nestled in salad greens in the French Lyonnaise tradition for a romantic dinner for two.

And for a portable meal, firmly poach and layer with ham and cheddar on an English muffin in the fast food style.

The next time you make a hearty chowder for a chilly evening, why not top it with an attractive and nutritious high-protein garnish? The yolks and whites blend marvelously with fish and vegetable recipes.

Let’s Eat!

Are you ready to start poaching?

Now that you’re armed with a new (or improved) cooking skill to add to your growing culinary repertoire, it’s time to get cracking.

What’s your favorite way to feature poached eggs in your cooking? Let us know your creative serving suggestions in the comments section below, and don’t forget to rate this recipe while you’re at it! For more creative ideas, see our article, “Mix Up Your Eggs with These Easy Cooking Methods.”


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different views of poached eggs.

Photos by Nan Schiller, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.

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