“Put an egg on it” has been the mantra of magazines and restaurants for the past few years. But the rest of the world has been doing it for centuries, and for good reason. It’s a protein, it’s a sauce, it can take a simple bowl of noodles or grains and turn it into a velvety, beautiful bowl of dinner. Cooking eggs is simple, but to do it perfectly is an art. Our managing producer Sally Swift sat down with America’s Test Kitchen host Bridget Lancaster for a conversation about one of the holy grails of egg cooking—the perfect poach. You can try your hand at making the perfect poached egg at home with this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.

Sally Swift: I got a text message the other day from my 16-year-old asking me how to poach an egg, and I found myself stymied on how to tell her how to do it. It's those simple things that we should know, and, guess what, they're kind of hard.

Bridget Lancaster: First of all, kudos to your teenager for asking how to poach an egg.

Bridget Lancaster (Photo: America's Test Kitchen)
Bridget Lancaster
(Photo: America's Test Kitchen)

SS: It was an aberration, believe me.

BL: You're right, it’s one of those things that we should all know – how to make very basic eggs: fried, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, and poached. A perfect poached egg has a nice, creamy, and still a little bit runny yolk. We want that; we don't want it to overcook. The egg white around it is soft, pillowy, still very tender, but it doesn't have that ring of undercooked white that you so often find around poached eggs.

SS: There are all kinds of fables out there about swirling the water, adding vinegar; some people love to microwave. What did you guys discover?

BL: We tested them all. We tested that vortex, the swirling water. We found it was hard to do more than two eggs at a time for that to be reliable. We also tried cooking them in muffin tins, the little individual ones, and the whites were nice and neat. It almost looked like fast food eggs when they came out, they were so neat.

SS: Like an Egg McMuffin?

BL: But the outsides set way faster before the yolks were cooked through. We also tried vinegar, which is something that people have been doing for generations. The reason why actually makes sense: it lowers the pH of the water, causing they egg whites to set at a lower temperature. That's key because an egg white will traditionally set at a higher temperature unless you lower the pH of the water that it's cooking in.

SS: What did you discover to be the optimal technique?

BL: Perfect poached eggs every single time relies on a strange piece of equipment, and that's a colander. Like a fine mesh colander that you use to drain pasta. You crack the eggs into the colander. Any time you crack an egg into any bowl, you'll find that the egg white is two different textures: that thicker white that surrounds the egg yolk, and then outside of that you have this liquidy, watery egg white. That's because as eggs age, they start to get more watery. It’s good to start with fresh eggs because they'll have more of that thicker egg white. By cracking them into a colander you can crack four at a time and let them drain for 20-30 second. That watery egg white will just flow right away.

Perfect Poached EggsPerfect Poached Eggs
Recipe by America's Test Kitchen
(Photo by Carl Tremblay)

SS: Then you pop them in boiling water?

BL: You want to transfer the egg to a measuring cup, a liquid measuring cup. It’s going to make it easy to put them in the water. We put them in six quarts of boiling water. A big Dutch oven or a stock pot is great. Add the vinegar [Ed. Note: 1 Tbsp vinegar per recipe] and a little bit of salt. That helps to not only season the eggs but helps the whites to set. Once the water is boiling, you slip the eggs one-by-one into the water with a little space between them, put the lid on the pot, and then turn off the heat. The heat from the water and the pot – and of course the lid's keeping that heat inside – is enough residual heat to gently poach those eggs perfectly in just three minutes.

SS: Wow. You're just steeping them?

BL: That's absolutely right; you're just steeping them. And since you're not boiling them you don't have to worry about them tattering or going all over the place or egg yolks cracking open. It's foolproof.

SS: That sounds great and simple. Beyond starting a brunch service at home, tell me other ways you like to use poached eggs.

BL: That's the beauty of poached eggs:  once you learn how to make them, you'll find just about everything can be a better and tastier with egg yolk in it. I love them over grits. Cheese grits with a poached egg on top; you crack open that egg yolk, let that run through. I've even put them in tacos. Put them in a burrito. I love them on a pizza. A little slice of pizza or a tostada, something like that. I'd pretty much eat them out of my hand

SS: It's pretty much an instant sauce when you think about it.

BL: It is. That's a perfect way to put it.

America's Test Kitchen

The Splendid Table frequently visits with the test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen to discuss a wide range of topics including recipes, ingredients, techniques and kitchen equipment.