Poached eggs are universally loved. Some would even call a perfect poached egg on toast comfort food. Poaching an egg free-floating in water is not hard, unless you hate your eggs wandering all over the pan, and don’t mind water on your toast. There are dedicated appliances for poaching eggs. I wish I had a dollar for each egg poacher bought around the world, and used only once. There are special little rubber tubs designed to poach eggs. Yet one more thing to clutter up your “what-the-heck-do-you-do-with-this drawer.” None are required for water-free, beautifully formed, poached eggs.
I do contain my eggs, but I use a set of small plastic bowls that are used every day in my kitchen, for mixing small amounts of ingredients, i.e., mayonnaise with garlic or other flavor before using, melting tiny amounts of butter … you get the idea. But they are also ideal for poaching eggs.
These little bowls are the perfect size for eggs. I’ve included the dimensions so you can find or buy a good container for your egg poaching. These bowls are thick, hard plastic. I would look for very sturdy plastic, or even better, a glass version of a bowl roughly this size.
Hint: Do a quick inventory each time you unload your dishwasher. When a dish or utensil is present every time you run a load, that’s one of your key tools. These little bowls are in my dishwasher every time. As are my glass custard cups (another option for poaching eggs) — sometimes six or eight of them.
To poach eggs, lightly grease the inside of the poaching bowl. You can use oil, which is really handy if you have a sprayer, but I have found the eggs release much better when using butter. It’s possible that the solid form of butter spreads more readily and thoroughly. I simply scrape a tiny, tiny amount of butter onto a knife and run the knife across the bowl rim to release. Then I spread it around with my fingers — best tool I own. There is often enough remaining on your fingers to do the second bowl. Hold the bowl up to the light to make sure it is completely covered. It sounds like I am making too much of this, but the eggs will fuse like cement to any area you miss, and forget convincing the egg to go nicely onto your toast.
Crack the eggshell and gently open the shell to place each egg into one bowl. Put about ½” of water into a frying pan. In fact, any shallow pan will do, but you do need a lid that fits well. Place the bowls with the eggs into the pan, and place the pan over medium heat. Bring the water to a boil, and adjust your heat so you have a light boil when the lid is in place. You want enough heat to produce steam and cook the eggs in a reasonable time, but don’t want the water boiling vigorously, and depositing water onto your eggs.
The eggs will take about 5 minutes to cook, depending on how fast your water is boiling. (Good time to start your toast.) To check progress, lift the lid, and give the bowl a little tap. The egg will cook from the outside to the center, so watch for movement around the yolk. You’ll get the best result if you take the pan from the heat when there is just a tiny bit of jiggle left next to the yolk, and leave the pan covered for a minute or two. This seems to finish the last bit of cooking without risking overcooking the outer edges.
Before you release the egg from the bowl, tip it a little to see if you have any water on top of the egg. There will usually be a tiny bit. It is safe to tip to bowl just enough for the water to run out into the sink. Until you release it, the egg is likely not going anywhere.
To release the egg from the bowl, use the back of a spoon to lightly run around the edge of the bowl. Don’t push the spoon down too far on the first pass. For perfect eggs, work the spoon gently down a little further on each pass. Check to see if the egg is moving freely, and repeat until the egg is free. Once you have released the egg fully, hold the bowl near the toast and using the spoon to help, gently slide the egg onto the toast.
That sounds more difficult than it is. Once you have done it a few times, it is very quick to get perfect eggs onto the toast. If the egg gets away from you, lands in a heap, and breaks open — just laugh. Your eggs will taste just as good, and when you nail it next time, the victory will be twice as sweet.
Don’t be discouraged by the length of these instructions. Once you have poached a few eggs, you won’t even have to think about what you are doing. The first time to do anything is slow and laborious, as you try to follow directions.
Travel Note: This is a basic food you can cook when away from home. I travel with a HotPot to make my coffee, and if you have containers that will fit into the HotPot, you can make poached eggs easily. (It’s usually tough to make toast, but eggs with bread taste great when compared to spending money on a greasy breakfast. Two of the bowls featured here do fit into my HotPot.
This is part of a series devoted to the bare bones of real-food cooking. In generations past, most people (women, for sure) would have practiced basic cooking techniques under parental supervision by the time they hit their teens. But many in the past couple of generations have bypassed those basics. It’s possible to be an impressive cook, but not know all of the basics. This series is designed to fill in those holes in knowledge.