Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cracking the poached egg - Daring Cook Challenge November 2010

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

I love poached eggs and have always wanted to be able to make them at home. But I have tried and failed so many times and had written them off as something I could never master. So it was a mixture of excitement and sinking dread for me when this month's challenge was revealed.

I decided to approach the challenge as scientifically as possible to see if I could finally crack a decent poached egg.

By far the most common tip for successful poached eggs is use fresh eggs. I found this part tricky. Sadly I don't have any friends with chickens who can provide me with lovely fresh laid eggs, so I have to rely on store-bought eggs. In Australia eggs are labeled with a "best before" date, so the question is, how does one work out from that when they were laid?

I did some research and discovered from The Australian Egg Labeling Guide, a guide to the applicable laws and regulations, that Australia eggs must be labeled with a "best-before" date and that means:

"the date which signifies the end of the period during which the intact package of food, if stored in accordance with any stated storage conditions, will remain fully marketable and will retain any specific qualities for which express or implied claims have been made".

Hmm, not very helpful. I gleaned slightly more information from the The Australia Egg Corporation Code of Practice for Shell Egg Production, Grading, Packing and Distribution, which provides that the best before date is calculated by reference to:

"a period of 6 weeks or less from the date of pack"
"eggs shall be delivered to a packing station within 96 hours of lay".

This still didn't give me a reliable way to work out how exactly how fresh the eggs I buy are, so I decided to simply work with what I had.

The other important factor seems to be the temperature of the water, so I used a candy thermometer to keep the water at around 70 c. I was surprised to find that at this temperature the water was not what I would call simmering. In the past I have definitely had the water too hot. I added vinegar to the water as directed, cracked the egg into a cup first, cooked them one at a time and used a timer to poach them for exactly 4 minutes. I was not up for the full Benedict so I served them with slow-roasted tomato and avocado for me, and with lashings of bacon for the bacon-lover in the family.

The results were pretty good and certainly far better than I have ever managed before. The whites had a lovely soft texture, not rubbery at all and the yolks were beautifully runny. However, the problems were that there were lots of fly-away white bits and worse, they were flat. The egg invariably sunk to the bottom of the pan. This meant the shape was akin to a fried egg, with the yolk in the shape of a hump and the white in a flat circle around it. To my mind, the shape should be closer to the shape of a boiled egg - with a rounded yolk and the white evenly clumped around it.

Later in the month I had a bit of an epiphany over my lunch at a cool Japanese place in the city called Mappen.

I was fascinated to see that they produced an egg that looked and tasted like a poached egg, but was cracked directly out of the shell into my bowl of udon. I guessed that the eggs must be pre-softboiled and thought this might be a way to achieve a more rounded poached egg with less white fly-aways. The method would be to parboil in the shell for say 2 minutes, then crack the egg into the pan of poaching water for a further 2 minutes.

I have experimented with this at home but am still yet to see the results I would like.

I should mention too that I made my own English muffins (did anyone not?) and cooked them on the barbeque. They were very simple and quite tasty, but next time I would like to try the Alton Brown method mentioned on the forum as that looks really good.

I thought this was a terrific challenge. It was interesting and scary and I learned a lot. Thank you so much to the hosts and to my fellow Daring Cooks who continually inspire and amaze me with their creative cooking.


  1. It is great that you are perfecting your poaching technique yes par-cooking the egg (with the shell on) in some simmering water then cracking the par-cooked egg into barely simmering water is an established method I think Julia Roberts uses this in her books. And your muffins look magnificent (the Alton Brown recipe is superb also) well done on this challenge. It seems you are overcoming your poaching "phobia".

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. I think it looks great - I really am not sure why the white separated from the yolk like that (maybe that is a factor of the age of your eggs as well), but that's happened to a couple people who did this challenge. Yeah, poaching really needs to be just below simmering - your whites look well cooked and the yolk looks gorgeous. I have yet to try the Japanese soft-boil style, but I think I will next time!

  3. Ummm... I have to admit to not making my own muffins - naughty! Interesting idea with the soft boiling.
    I think your muffins look gorgeous!

  4. I have heard in restaurants they crack an egg into cling wrap and "poach" it that way. I guess you would consider it cheating??. Perhaps you could do your par boil in the cling wrap, then release it into the water.

  5. Mmm, your poached eggs and the english muffins look fantastic! I bet they were delicious with the slow-roasted tomatoes and avocado (and bacon, too!). Love the photos and congrats on a perfectly poached egg!

  6. Yes the perfect pillowy poached egg can be an elusive task in cooking. At least texturally they all come out the same!