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The Perfect Poach



Photo: Thinkstock.com/olgna

The star of benedicts and brunches, poached eggs make an impressive topping for toast and salad. If preparing them at home makes you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, try these simple steps to master the perfect poach in no time.

Start Fresh

Using the freshest eggs possible helps the whites stay intact during cooking and makes for a more uniform poached egg. Purchase eggs as close as possible to the day you plan to poach them, and avoid using eggs that are more than a week old for the best results. If your goal is a soft or medium poach, pick pasteurized eggs. 

Simmer Down

Bring a large stockpot filled with 3 to 4 inches of water to a simmer over low heat. Water that is boiling too rapidly can cause eggs to break almost instantly, but if it is too gentle, the eggs may not set at all. Water is the right temperature for poaching when a few bubbles break the surface every second without causing too much commotion in the pot. 

Strain Away

Crack an egg into a fine mesh strainer set over a small bowl. Shake gently back and forth to strain away thin and watery loose white, while leaving the thicker, tight white intact. The watery white can lead to a messy and wispy-looking end product, and straining it away helps keep poached eggs consistent in size and shape. Save strained egg whites for use in an omelet or frittata later in the week. 

Go Low and Slow

Gently lower the strainer into simmering water while tilting and gently shaking to release the egg from the strainer and into the water. Set a timer and cook to your desired doneness: 2 minutes for soft, 3 minutes for medium and 4 minutes for firm. Gently flip egg with a slotted spoon halfway through for even cooking. 

Dry and Drain

Once cooked to your liking, use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to a plate lined with a paper towel to soak up excess water before serving. 

Poach Ahead of Time for Convenience or a Crowd

Simply cook eggs as outlined above and store in a large bowl of cold water in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, reheat eggs in gently simmering water and transfer to a paper towel before plating. 

Another way to poach perfect eggs in advance is using the sous vide cooking method — a temperature-controlled water bath in which foods are often vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch before being submerged and cooked. Since eggs come with built-in “pouches” (their shells), simply submerge them, shell intact, in a 167°F sous vide water bath for 13 minutes. Remove, crack on a hard surface and peel away shell until the egg slides out. 


Emily Cooper, RD, LD, is a nutrition educator in the Portland, Maine, area. She is a Stone Soup blogger and author of sinfulnutrition.com.


Healthy Kitchen Hacks: Eggs Made Easy

Hard-boil without boiling. Place large eggs in a pot and fill with cold water to 1 inch above eggs. Bring water just to a boil, then immediately turn off heat. Cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Cool and enjoy!

Separate whites in a snap. Crack eggs into a bowl. Use an empty, clean, disposable water bottle to suck up one yolk at a time, squeezing gently on the bottle to create suction. No bottle? Carefully cup your fingers under a yolk and let the whites drip between your fingers into the bowl.

Whip whites to high heights. Use ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar to help 2 to 3 egg whites whip up and not deflate. No cream of tartar? Use ½ teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar for each egg white. 

Freeze for future meals. Refrigerated raw eggs keep for three weeks beyond the “sell by” date. For longer storage, freeze egg whites in ice cube trays. To avoid gelatinous yolks, freeze with either 1⁄8 teaspoon salt or 1 ½ teaspoons sugar for each ¼ cup egg yolks (4 large yolks.) To freeze whole eggs, beat yolks and whites together.


Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD, and Serena Ball, MS, RD, are moms and food-loving dietitians who share family recipes, healthy kitchen hacks and nutrition adventures at teaspoonofspice.com.

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