If at First

You don’t succeed (at poaching an egg), definitely don’t try again for at least six years. What? You wouldn’t do this? It’s just me?

Well anyway: we all have our challenges, and poaching an egg definitely was one of mine. Err, was ? I mean, still is. Darn it, those things are near impossible to get right. It’s good I like them so much to even keep trying.

Tonight I decided to tackle a problem that has plagued me for years: achieving that elusive poached egg. My first attempt ages ago ended in almost-tears and irritation and I gave it up. Though I loved the taste of a poached egg to make one myself seemed an insurmountable task. Fried, omlette-d, scrambled, baked — eggs were delicious every other way I could do them and did I really need to torture myself with futile wastes of water and what essentially turned into a bland version of egg drop soup because of my ineptitude? But I can rarely give up and so I gave myself a limit of using six eggs as practice, vowing to make at least one work. Luckily I managed to be mildly successful on the fourth try, thank goodness. By that point I was starving and decided it was good enough, if not as solidly perfect as I might get at a restaurant (my version was a bit more, how do I say, rustic. ). Thus I sat down to a good dinner of a potato sliced nearly all the way through and stuffed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil and salt, an enormous pile of roasted heirloom tomatoes, a salad of roasted beets, greens, radishes, and sungold tomatoes — and that rusticpoached egg.

It was not bad.

I’ve been eating pretty well lately, I’ll tell you. Last week there was a dinner out at Nopa with a new/old friend where we ate a tomato salad, roasted chicken for her and vegetable tagine for me, a tiny cheese plate, and honey creme brulee

which was absolutely as amazing as one might imagine. The next night I went to Andalu with a bunch of boys I’ve known since I was about four years old and ate and drank copiously and deliciously. And then on Friday I brought Out the Door treats, along with a few Miette cupcakes, to a friend who recently moved into my neighborhood.

Basically, I’ve been thoroughly stuffing myself though not due solely to my own efforts. This is fine, of course, but for someone who loves to cook so much it’s a little strange. I was missing serving myself.

My own poor kitchen lay a bit quiet and as I am loathe to let it rest too long lest it gets too lonely and I too twitchy for its company last night I made a pot of quinoa-spinach soup to last me a week of lunches. I roasted vegetables for dinner along with some risotto with baby spinach added just at the end. And then tonight, having a free evening, I decided to try for once and all to conquer my nemesis the poached egg.

(It was good to get back in there again.)

Now, I can’t say I ‘conquered’ said egg-poaching necessarily but I will say this: it’s no longer as scary as once it was. I mean, I’m definitely much better at the slow-and-sweet-scramble, with a bit of feta and fresh rosemary, or a fried egg sandwich, but I’m fairly well ashamed of myself for letting all that time go in between attempts (the first one, it must be admitted was pretty traumatic and I probably cursed and gave up all hope that I could ever accomplish it with any modicum of decency; ah, foolish youth!). While I was heating the water for my second try I got a phone call from a college friend now living in the East Bay to ask a culinary question; as I advised him he advised me (“Put the egg slowly into the water if you want to have a chance,” he said) and just that he even called me to ask advice sort of made my evening. Of course I could poach an egg!

At any rate: I tried. It was OK. I’m not going to give you any tips other than to tell you to keep the water at more of a simmer than a boil and to, yes, drop that egg in quite slowly. I am not claiming I know at all what I’m doing; while it tasted fine it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as it could’ve been. At the same time, though, I’ll confess I’m the littlest bit proud of myself for finally getting back to it. And where would we be without these little obstacles anyhow?

So in sum, and as a few parting thoughts: If at first you don’t succeed at poaching an egg, don’t give up no matter how irritating it might be. Time, and patience, is key (and really, there’s all the time in the world. Promise.). And if you must leave your kitchen for a little while don’t worry: it will still be there upon your return, ready and waiting for you to dive back into — like coming home again after such a long journey away.

Join the Conversation

  1. My trick is to use a small thin-rimmed cup (an espresso cup is perfect). Crack the egg into it, lower into the pot of very gently simmering water, let a small amount of the water swirl into the cup and bathe the egg. After 30 seconds or so, it will have set enough for you to slip the egg into the pot, and it should hold its shape beautifully…

  2. John C Abellr says:

    Rustic? Nonsense.

    In restaurants they use poachers, I’m sure, which cup the egg to make it smooth and give it a “perfectly-shaped” contour — gots nothing to do with the flavor, just the plating.

    Anyway, how about this modest refinement: turn off the heat entirely. I think the enemy here is agitation. The yoke must be protected, and for that the white armor needs to be solidified in peace. So maybe try water
    that has recently been heated to a boil but is no longer excited. And, like your friend said, slow immersion is also what it’s all about. Full disclosure: I’ve never been successful at this method, but Ibe seen it done :).

  3. i’ve also had troubles with the poaching. however, i just settle for a poached egg that isn’t perfectly round–totally delcious.

    my friend gave me the tip for that one: in a skillet half covered with simmering water, then you put a lid on it, let the water boil and the steam cooks the top of the egg. you pull it out right when the yellow yolk gets a white-ish film over the top of it.

  4. hm, have you tried the vinegar trick?

    1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar to 1 pot of barely simmering water. stir in a roughly circular motion. add the egg (I like to poach them one at a time), poach for 2-3 minutes, lift out with a slotted spoon and use as needed.

    you’re not the first person who’s expressed bewilderment at poaching.

    maybe I should do a demo later this week.

  5. That’s always been something I’ve wanted to do just to say I can. Still working on that one.
    I also need to remember that quinoa goes well in soup!

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