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I have been trying to learn how to make poached eggs. The main issue I have is the shape of the egg whites.

In a "perfect" poached egg, the white builds a sphere around the yolk and covers it completely. However, with my eggs, the white just hang on the side, next to the yolk, and the end result somewhat resembles a fried egg.

I've been following the usual steps (sieve the runny white, move to cup, heat the water to almost a simmer, ..) so I'm at a loss as to why this is happening.

  • For what it's worth, my mother used to deep fry eggs (after frying potatoes). Crack the egg and drop carefully into the deep fryer and it comes out 3-D. – RedSonja Aug 1 at 10:46
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The number one thing is having fresh eggs. Older eggs have a looser inner white and there's not much you can do to keep the yolk from hanging on to the side. Contrary to the other answer, I have not found that swirling the water helps the egg stay together, compared to dropping it in very carefully (the water should go into the cup before the egg comes out; you shouldn't be pouring it in, as much as allowing it to slowly slide along the side of the cup further down into the water). The water should be well-salted, and a bit of vinegar can be a good idea although adding too much can cause the outer skin of the egg to become a bit leathery.

If you want a truly absurdly perfect poached egg, you can use a sous vide cooker (or just a pot of carefully tended warm water). Cook the eggs in their shells at 64 degrees celsius for 1 hour, remove the shell and separate the loose white, and cook in simmering water for just a minute or so. I actually find the result a bit off-putting in its perfection, but it's the closest to "sphere form" you will ever get.

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    That's the tricky part. :-) You can try to find eggs with the latest possible expiration date. Eggs from a farmer's market will likely be much fresher than eggs from a supermarket, and one brand of eggs may tend to be fresher than a different brand. Unfortunately, overall it's not something you'll have full control over unless you feel like owning chickens. – Sneftel Jul 30 at 13:28
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    Still, I would assume that eggs you buy from a large supermarket and use within 24 hours would generally be "fresh enough". – Sneftel Jul 30 at 13:30
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    Where I am (Toronto, Canada) I've noticed that "fancier" eggs (free run, brown, omega 3, special plastic cartons, etc.) tend to be less fresh, with runnier whites, while the cheapest eggs tend to be fresher. I assume it's simply because the cheap ones sell faster and so are brought in more frequently. You might also want to check where they are produced, the cheapest "local" eggs are probably a good bet for freshness. The expiry date should be quite a ways away, at least a month. – Cameron Roberts Jul 30 at 18:06
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    When I was a professional chef we used the sous vide method, for what that's worth. – MikeTheLiar Jul 30 at 18:13
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    In the EU, it's very easy to tell how fresh an egg is - you just look at the date printed on it. This is the date of collection (which will be the date of laying). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jul 31 at 5:42
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Jamie Oliver has a method (around 2:53 in the video) that involves poaching the eggs wrapped in plastic. I've never tried this myself, but the gist from the video is:

  1. Tear off a roughly square piece of plastic wrap
  2. Line a bowl with it
  3. Lightly oil the plastic
  4. Crack the egg into the bowl
  5. Pull the corners of the plastic wrap together and gently twist it shut, until there's pretty much no air remaining
  6. Poach the egg
  7. Carefully slice the twisted part off with a knife, then place the egg on whatever you're serving it on and gently slip the plastic off

He insists on fresh eggs as well.

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    That would be the "Arzak" method. – moscafj Jul 30 at 21:09
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    Sounds like it. But at the time I wrote my answer, yours didn't elaborate on what the Arzak method was, so I didn't realize. – Justin Lardinois Jul 30 at 22:01
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You could try the "Arzak" egg, made popular by Spanish chef Juan Mari Arzak. It is not difficult, but does require the extra step of wrapping. Line a ramekin with plastic wrap, leaving enough overhand to enclose an egg with extra to tie off. Brush with oil. Crack egg into plastic lined ramekin. Carefully bring the plastic end together, encasing the egg, and tie off with a piece of butcher twine, or the plastic wrap itself. Lower into simmering water. Alternately, use string to tie to a wooden spoon that is rested across the pot, so that the egg bundles hand below the surface of the water, but above the surface of the pot. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on your preferred level of doneness. Remove from pot, unwrap, and serve...or, chill in ice bath for later reheating.

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    I read of that option before but I'm a huge opponent of the amount of plastic waste that is caused by that method. – Andreas T Jul 30 at 13:19
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    Could you put the details of this method in your post? If your link quits working, your answer won't be very helpful. – Kat Jul 30 at 19:27
  • @Andreas there may be a texture of fabric that would work if oiled well, and could be washed and reused. – arp Jul 31 at 17:26
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Do the trick of swirling the water first at the moment you will add the egg, remember the water must be boiling, and then add egg by egg in the center of the pot, do not add them all (i meaning to cook more than 2 eggs at once), by doing this it will get the "sphere" form, and cook by the time that you like poached eggs to be.

  • Unfortunately, swirling didn't help much. It also doesn't seem like the "right" solution as many cooks are able to achieve good form without swirling the water. – Andreas T Jul 30 at 13:19
  • @AndreasT you could try the trick of cooking the egg with the plastic wrap tho, i dont think you want to your eggs have some toxins (or traces as well) of the plastic wrap when its heated for a few minutes like that which you wouldnt want in you food. idk its somethin that i am not agree to do myself. – Michael Ben David Jul 30 at 20:27
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    @AndreasT I wouldn't rule this one out -- although I disagree with M.B.D. about not adding more than two eggs at once; I've found this quite effective for up to 6-8 at the same time, in a reasonable size pot. Important points that may be causing you to not succeed with this method: The water needs to be at full boil, and you need to swirl it very hard, with a whisk is best, until you get a real vortex going in the center. Then quickly but gently tip the eggs in from a Pyrex measuring cup or similar. There's often 1-2 that aren't perfect if you are doing a lot, but this should never miss for 2. – jkf Jul 31 at 2:49
  • @jkf i said just one by one whether its a small pot, and that the egg might cook and form more even when poured, yes you would have to swirl more harder if are more than one that you gonna pour. – Michael Ben David Jul 31 at 2:54
  • @MichaelBenDavid I should add that I've found a smaller pot to make things much less reliable in general -- you need the water to stay hot when you pour the eggs in so they don't have a chance to spread out too much. So I always use a bigger (~3 qt) pot even if I'm only doing a couple of eggs. – jkf Aug 1 at 21:10
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That's a tall order.

Just to get the coveted "teardrop" shape on a poached egg is hard enough.

Some chefs use scissors to clean up poached eggs to get this shape. A bit of a hack, but maybe you could do the same, and cut it into a spherical shape.

Personally, I tend to get the classic egg-drop-soup shape of my poached eggs.

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Although I agree with all the answers already posted, I thought I'd add my approach as I'm pretty proud of how mine come out!

  1. Bring a pan to the boil
  2. Add around 1-2 tbsp of white vinegar to the water for a medium size pan (more than you might think!)
  3. Crack egg into a small flour-sieve (note everything previously stated about the freshness of the eggs)
  4. Let any 'loose' white drain off slightly
  5. Transfer from sieve into a small ramekin or bowl
  6. Turn the water down until it's just on the point of simmering. i.e. there should be very little movement but just a degree or two higher and it would simmer
  7. Lower the egg gently into the water (out of the bowl)
  8. Leave until the white is just firm, you can test by lifting out with a spoon and poking the bit of the white next to yolk is firm but the yoke is still soft
  9. Use a slotted spoon to transfer onto a clean dry piece of kitchen towel before transferring onto toast

Just a note, I used to be a French Chalet chef and would have to cook ~20 eggs every morning so I do not swirl the water to allow me to cook more in one pan at a time. I can't comment on whether this helps or not.

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