Eggs are most often poached in water, though other liquids such as wine, stock, or cream can also be used. Add vinegar and salt to the water to encourage the egg protein to set faster. Otherwise, the egg whites can spread too much before they coagulate.
Poached eggs can be prepared in advance. To do this, slightly undercook the eggs, shock them in ice water to stop the cooking process, trim the edges of the whites, and hold them in cold water. When ready to serve, reheat the eggs by briefly submerging them in simmering water.
1. Fill a pan with water to a depth of a few inches and season it with a small amount of vinegar and salt to prevent the egg whites from spreading during cooking. The vinegar and salt should be barely perceptible, not enough that the poached egg tastes strongly of either.
Working in small batches is more efficient, since the more eggs added to the water, the more time it will take to properly poach them. To reduce the chance of breaking an egg in the poaching liquid, break the eggs into cups. Discard any eggs that have blood spots on the yolks. Gently pour the egg from the cup into the poaching liquid.
2. Once added, the egg will sink to the bottom of the pot, then float back to the top. The white will set around the yolk to create a teardrop shape. It generally takes 3 to 4 minutes to poach an egg properly, depending on its size. The more eggs added to the water at a time, the longer it will take for the eggs to poach properly.
3. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to gently lift the poached egg from the water. Blot the egg on paper towels to remove as much excess water as possible.
4. A properly poached egg should have a fully coagulated egg white and a warm center that is only partially set, and should be tender with a compact oval shape
Excerpted from Cooking at Home, © 2013 by The Culinary Institute of America. Photos © Ben Fink. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.