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What is the best way to poach an egg without vinegar? Is there a quick and easy alternative?

Thanks in advance.

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3 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Heston Blumenthal has brought his unique scientific approach to bear on this recently. The main pointers for a perfect poached egg are as follows:

  • The egg must be fresh. A fresh egg has a thicker, more gel-like albumen. As it gets older, this becomes watery, and so just disperses throughout the water when you add it. To test if your egg is fresh, place it in a jug of cold water. If it floats, it's not fresh - the egg has had time to absorb air through its shell. A fresh egg sinks and stays sunk.

  • The water temperature should be 80ºC/176ºF exactly. You can measure this with a sugar or probe thermometer. The egg should be at room temperature.

  • The egg should not come into contact with direct heat, so put a plate or small bowl on the bottom of the pan, bottom up.

Once the water (in a medium to large saucepan) is up to temperature, carefully add the fresh egg and cook for 4 minutes exactly (for a large egg of the domestic chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus). Drain and serve - the white should be set but not rubbery (a drawback of using vinegar) and the yolk should be creamy and rich.

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+1 You are like the Brad Pitt character in Inglorious Basterds. Firm, and commanding. –  Doug Feb 24 '12 at 8:25
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You probably heard we ain't in the egg-wastin' business; we in the poachin' egg business. And cousin, business is a-boomin'. :) –  ElendilTheTall Feb 24 '12 at 10:50
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If you're going to specify exact values for temperature and time, you (or Heston) should probably also specify egg size. One would expect that if exactly 4 minutes works for a standard 'large' egg, a 'jumbo' egg might take take 4 min. 15 sec. And to make this scientific, other variables such as barometric pressure, volume of water, and species of egg should be specified. –  Caleb Feb 24 '12 at 15:22
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Updated to be more specific. I'll let you do the science on barometric pressure :) –  ElendilTheTall Feb 24 '12 at 22:21
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+1 - Curiously, the more sturdy albumen in a fresh egg is actually a downside for certain dishes, like quiche and custard, or any other dish made with a milk and egg royale. The ropy chalaza that holds things together when poaching is a hassle when custarding. Just find that interesting. –  Sam Ley Feb 26 '12 at 22:54
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Just simmer water, and poach the egg. The vinegar is simply there to help coagulate the white. I never use vinegar for poaching eggs. You just have to try to be as careful as possible when setting the egg into the water. have the water at a bare simmer, not a rolling boil. These things will help to keep the white intact.

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Using very fresh eggs will also help keep the white from spreading. –  Sobachatina Feb 23 '12 at 19:48
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This method may not be practical if you want a lot of poached eggs but this is what I do.

  • wait for the water to come to the boil
  • turn down heat somewhat
  • use a spoon to stir the water until a visible vortex forms in the middle of the pot
  • gently pour in the egg in the vortex
  • wait until done
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