There are few simple kitchen tasks as daunting as poaching an egg. My sisters and I learned the technique early, when as kids poached eggs on toast were a staple not only of breakfast, but of lunch and dinner. As a grown-up, poached eggs on toast remain one of my all-time comfort foods, and a great quick and easy meal that I know my 5 year old will eat. But poached eggs aren’t only for toast anymore – try them on top of a salad (spinach and bacon, especially!) and let the yolk mingle with the dressing – or try a sort of deconstructed pasta carbonara, with a poached egg on top rather than tossed with the hot noodles. A poached egg makes a quick meal of sautéed greens or leftover grains (rice, barley, quinoa) – or try a poached egg on top of a burger or pizza.
To poach one or more eggs, bring an inch or two of water to a gentle boil in a skillet big enough to accommodate the number of eggs you’re cooking. (It’s best to do no more than 3 at a time – too many eggs will crowd the pan and cool down the water.) Add a good sprinkling of salt and if you like, a teaspoon of vinegar, which isn’t necessary (I don’t do it) but will lower the PH of the water and prevent the whites from becoming ragged. Reduce the heat to a simmer – the point at which the water barely bubbles – a rough, rolling boil will make your eggs go all over the place when you crack them in.
Gently break your eggs into the water and as they start to set, spoon the water over the tops of the yolks to help them cook. If they stick to the bottom of the pan, loosen them with a thin spatula. Poach your eggs for 3-4 minutes, until the whites are firm and the yolks have filmed over. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them to buttered toast or onto a paper towel to drain.
And here’s a tip, if you’re having company for brunch or need to cook poached eggs for a crowd: you can poach eggs in advance, and keep them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge for up to 2 days. Reheat them by dipping them into a saucepan of simmering water for about 30 seconds.