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


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

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

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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    this works brilliantly, I would underline not to be tempted to stir the water at all once the egg is in though, (it screws up the flow of the water, and hence also the egg). – Martin May 7 '17 at 20:41

What I generally do is use a slotted spoon to drain the runny parts of the white of, before putting it into the water. This goes well with the aforementioned method from Heston Blumenthal.

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In addition to simmering water, fresh eggs, salt and vinegar, and getting rid of the outer egg white with a slotted spoon or mash, there is a way to use older eggs. You first boil them for 90 sec in their shell, and afterwards break them in the liquid for poaching. This sets the outer eggwhite somewhat, and keeps it together. I have had mixed results with this, but give it a try if you have older eggs

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personally I use lemon, it helps to acidate the water and adds a unexpected flavour to the poached eggs, its wonderful when making eggs benedict.

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