Poached eggs, like pancakes, get better the more you make, so this is another case of practice makes perfect. First of all, the eggs must be as fresh as possible – this means a few days, no older, or the whites will fly apart. The water should not be boiling rapidly and there is no need to create a whirlpool effect before adding the eggs.
Acidulating the water with lemon juice or vinegar helps coagulation of the albumen, but do not use more than
The most difficult part is getting the eggs to hold a nice compact shape without the white going rubbery from overcooking.
Put the water into a wide, shallow pan and bring to a point just off the boil, otherwise bubbling water will encourage the white to break up. Break the eggs into a small cup, one at a time, only just before you slide them into the water. Leaving them to stand exposed to the air will cause rapid deterioration.
They are done as soon as the white has set and become opaque, about 3 minutes. Immediately remove them with a slotted spoon. If using the eggs in a sauced dish like Benedict or Florentine, put in cold water to stop the cooking and then refrigerate until needed.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.