Are you slightly intimidated by the idea of poaching eggs? It can be tricky, but I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve that will have you poaching eggs like a pro in no time.

Poached eggs can be a delicious meal on their own, but they're also the foundation of my favorite breakfast dish - Eggs Benedict. 

But that's certainly not the only recipe that calls for a poached egg, so it's a good technique to have in your repertoire.

It can be tricky to achieve the perfect poach, and I think sometimes people get intimidated to try poaching eggs, but I have a few tips to help you succeed in poaching the perfect egg.

Optimally, a poached egg will have a slightly runny yolk enveloped in perfectly formed, fully cooked whites that envelope the yolk in a soft hug. When pierced with a fork, the yolk should drip out slowly and gloriously onto the plate. 

But I'll admit, learning to poach eggs correctly can be a bit of a challenge. Nothing is worse than a hard, over-cooked yolk when you break into it.  

So I wanted to share my tricks for poaching the perfect egg.

Myths about Poaching Eggs using Salt or Vinegar

First, let's talk about what you don't want to do. 

You may have heard that you need to add salt or vinegar to the poaching water. I've tried both and honestly don't love either method.

Poaching Eggs using Salt

Adding salt to the water doesn't seem to make a difference as far as wispy egg whites were concerned. The egg didn't hold together very well, honestly. 

Plus, too much salt in the water can toughen up the whites, so scratch that idea. I want my egg whites nice and pillowy soft.

Poaching Eggs using Vinegar

I also tried the vinegar in the water method and didn't like that at all. The vinegar gave the whites a weird texture. 

Instead of being smooth and shiny, the egg whites were kind of puckered. Which was icky. Although I do admit I didn't taste any vinegar in the eggs after poaching them which was surprising.

But no worries, I have discovered the secret to how to poach the perfect egg.

The secret is in the swirl.

So here's how to poach the perfect egg. I have broken it down into five simple steps:

  • The Whirlpool
  • The Slide
  • The Flip
  • The Press
  • The Blot

How to Poach the Perfect Egg

The Utensils for Poaching Eggs

Mesh Strainer |Pouring the eggs into a small mesh strainer will allow the thin, whispy egg whites to drain out to make for a more cohesive poached egg.

Small Bowls | I like to put each egg in a small bowl and line them up after checking that no eggshell got into the bowl. You can also use measuring cups or teacups.

Pot or Pan | I like to use a fairly deep frying pan to poach my eggs to make it easy to scoop them out of the water.

Wooden Spoon or Spatula | You'll use the handle of the wooden spoon to swirl the water. 

Egg Timer | Eggs cook quickly so you'll want to set a timer, at least the first couple of times until you get used to poaching. 

Large Skimmer, Slotted or Strainer Spoon |Be sure you have a large slotted spoon handy to scoop the eggs out of the water when they're done.

Paper Towels | To drain any water from the eggs once they're done cooking.

The Eggs for Poaching

Choose Fresh Eggs for Poaching

Since the protein bonds in egg whites break down as an egg ages making the whites thinner and more runny, it's very important to use the very freshest eggs possible when you're poaching.

Even a few days' old egg will have thinner whites than a freshly laid egg.

Use Cold Eggs for Poaching

This is also one instance where you want to use cold eggs straight from the fridge. Cold eggs will hold together better than room temperature eggs. 

Using cold eggs will also help the yolk stay runny while the whites are cooking.

So here's what you do:

Gently crack your eggs into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl or glass. Letting those extra thin whites drip out will result in a poached egg that has a much nicer shape.

After about 30 seconds, gently tip each egg from the strainer into a small bowl, measuring cup or teacup. Discard the extra whites.

Tip #1: if you're using super fresh eggs you can skip the strainer because the egg white will be nice and thick in those eggs and should hold together just fine. 

Tip #2: If you raise ducks, try poaching your duck eggs. Duck eggs poach extremely well because the whites in duck eggs are generally much thicker than chicken egg whites. They're practically jelly-like. You'll just need to cook them for a minute or two longer because of their larger size.

Not sure how fresh your eggs are? Just do the float test!

Egg Float Test for Freshness

The Pan for Poaching Eggs

I like to use a fairly deep frying pan or skillet instead of a pot for poaching eggs because it makes it easier to get the eggs out of the water. But really any type of pot or pan will work as long as you can fill it with several inches of water. 

If the water is too shallow, the eggs will stick to the bottom of the pan, and you don't want that. You don't need a super deep pot, though. Because if the water is too deep, the egg will fall to the bottom, dragging down the whites before they're fully set. And that's not optimal either.

So a pan with sides that are at least 4 inches high is perfect. If you're only cooking one egg, you can use a pan that's fairly small in diameter, but if you'll be poaching several eggs at once, you'll want a larger diameter pan.

So, now that you have picked out your pan, it's time to heat the water.

The Water for Poaching Eggs

In your pan, bring 3 to 4 inches of water to a boil, then lower the heat to barely a simmer so the water is jiggling and shimmying a bit and there are bubbles rising from the bottom of the pan, but they are just breaking the surface of the water. 

Be sure you're ready to start cooking your eggs as soon as the water reaches the gentle simmer because if the water isn't hot enough, the egg will separate and float away before it cooks.

But if your water is at a rolling boil, it will tear the egg to shreds and you'll be left with a huge mess! So proper water temperature is very important.

The Method for Poaching Eggs

If you're inexperienced at poaching eggs, you'll likely want to practice this method a few times. Try poaching just one egg at a time, then try two. Once you've mastered two eggs, then work up to four, then six!

And once you get more confident, you can crack the eggs directly into the water if you wish, but I still like to use a bowl. One small bowl per egg, all lined up, and ready to go once the water is ready. 

That way you know your egg is good, there are no eggshells in the bowl that will end up in your water, and you can move quickly as soon as the water is ready without having to worry about cracking the eggs one by one.

Once you have your water at the correct temperature, it's time to add your eggs.

5 Steps to Poach the Perfect Egg

The Whirlpool

With the handle of a wooden spoon, swirl the water in a clockwise direction for several seconds, creating a whirlpool with the vortex in the center of the pan. 

I usually go about ten times around the outer edge of the water. You really want the water whirlpooling pretty well! 

The Slide

Next, holding the bowl with the egg in it as close to the water as possible, dip the cup or bowl into the water and quickly slide the egg into the middle of the whirlpool.

Set your timer to cook the egg for 2 to 3 minutes for a gorgeously runny yolk.

Continue to gently swirl the water around the outer edge of the pan if the whites aren't wrapping themselves around the yolk on their own.

The Flip

Let the egg cook for 10 to 15 seconds to let the whites set up a bit. Once the whites are set, use the slotted spoon to gently flip each egg over to the other side. This will help the yolk in the center to cook evenly.

Once the time is up, use a slotted spoon to gently lift the egg out of the water.

The Press

Press gently on the yolk with your finger and if it feels slightly firm, it's done. If not, slide it back into the water for another 20 seconds or so at a time until it's done to your liking. 

The Blot

Slide the egg off the spoon and let it drain on a paper towel.  Poached eggs are pretty watery, and no one likes a pool of water on their plate, so draining the eggs and letting a paper towel blot up any excess water is a key step.

However, the eggs will dry pretty quickly, so remove them from the paper towel and onto plates after several seconds so they don't stick to the paper towel. 

Season the eggs with salt and pepper. Or maybe a bit of red pepper flakes or your favorite fresh or dried herb.

Repeat with the additional eggs.

And that's all there is to it! Now you know how to poach the perfect egg.

Once you get more comfortable poaching eggs, you can cook several eggs at once by moving each egg from the center of the pan to one side once its set, and letting it continue to cook while you swirl the water in the middle of the pan for the next egg. 

Just be sure to keep track of your time and remove your eggs from the water in the same order you put them in! 

Now that you've mastered poaching eggs, it's time to try my Classic Eggs Benedict recipe.

And watch this short video for more tips on how to poach the perfect egg.

If you like these tips, you'll love The Fresh Eggs Daily Cookbook. 
Available anywhere you buy your books.

©2022 by Fresh Eggs Daily, Inc.  and updated in 2024 for Coop to Kitchen. All rights reserved