The tricky thing about poached eggs is getting them to set into a smooth, compact shape. Usually the outer layer of thin white spreads irregularly before it solidifies. It’s helpful to use fresh Grade AA eggs shelled just before cooking, which have the largest proportion of thick white and will spread the least, and water close to but not at the boil, which will coagulate the outer white as quickly as possible without turbulence that would tease the thin albumen all over the pan. Other conventional cookbook tips are not very effective. Adding salt and vinegar to the cooking water, for example, does speed coagulation, but it also produces shreds and an irregular film over the egg surface. An unconventional but effective way to improve the appearance of poached eggs is simply to remove the runny white from the egg before poaching. Crack the egg into a dish, then slide it into a large perforated spoon and let the thin white drain away for a few seconds before sliding the egg into the pan.