There’s something very special about poaching. I think it’s mainly because it’s such a precarious process and one we generally prefer to leave to cafes with experience in that kind of thing. After all, it involves breaching the protective barrier of the shell and expecting the whites to hold together and surround the yolk in an aesthetically-pleasing fashion while you simmer it in a pan of hot water – honestly, we don’t expect much, do we?
I’m not going to get holier-than-thou about free range eggs, because it’s not as if I haven’t bowed to cost pressures and bought cage eggs before. But for poachies, there is simply no alternative. You have to use the free range kind, which have better shells so they’re less likely to explode in the pan when you boil them. They also tend to be larger, more flavoursome and upon consuming them, you achieve a nice halo effect that only comes with doing the humane thing and being able to feel virtuous about it.
The other non-negotiable factor is the freshness of the egg. If you don’t have super fresh eggs – they’re not always easy to get in London – you should consider scrambling, frying, hard-boiling or half-boiling your little loved ones. Either that, or lower your expectations. The albumen in fresh eggs clings to the yolk better and will help you to achieve that nice ‘whole egg’ look. Once they’re a few days old, it begins to pull away and it makes it difficult to keep the team together.
2 large free-range eggs
Half-fill a pan with water and bring to a low boil. Add a splash of vinegar – don’t worry, you won’t be able to taste it. It just helps the shells not to crack when you boil eggs (incidentally, if you’re hard-boiling, the vinegar will stop the shells from splitting and leaking egg white into the pan).
Using a slotted spoon, gently lower the two eggs into the pan. Boil for 20 seconds and rescue.
Using a fork to split the shell, break one egg into a shallow dish. The white should just have begun to take on a translucent sheen.
Make sure the water is on a low simmer – steam should be rising from the pan, but the water shouldn’t be moving very much. An occasional bubble is good. Hold the dish over the water and gently slip the egg into the pan. The way it falls is the way it sets, so be careful!
A soft-poached egg takes approximately 2-3 minutes. If your pan is large enough and your egg seems to be holding it together nicely, do the other egg on the other side of the pan. Otherwise, cook your egg for 2 minutes and place into iced water to stop the cooking process while you take care of the other eggs. Before serving, dip it into hot water for 30 seconds.
And hey, don’t worry so much if your egg whites run everywhere. If it’s just for you, nobody will know – and if you’re cooking for other people, they’re probably just happy they’re not the ones at the stove.