Poached eggs are the holy grail of breakfast. They are way more impressive than the typical fried egg and elevate plain avocado toast to something Insta-worthy.
Making a poached egg sounds easy enough: just plop an egg into hot water and let the water do the work. The problem is, poached eggs can be frustratingly finicky. If you aren’t careful, you could end up with a soupy mess instead of the pretty egg you had in mind. Follow these tricks, straight from a chef, for the perfect poached eggs every time:
Wait to buy your eggs
Hard-boiled eggs are best when a bit older because they’re easier to peel, but the opposite is true with poached eggs. Eggs from the back of the fridge might start falling apart in the pot, says Melissa Joulwan, author of cookbook Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less. Poached eggs are better the fresher they are, so buy a fresh dozen today for tomorrow’s brunch, she says.
Don’t overfill the pot
Instead of filling your pot with water, stick with just two or three inches of water, says Joulwan. “You don’t want the eggs to have a ton of room to move around and bounce to the bottom of the pot,” she says. “The whites will drift away from the yolk, and you’ll end up with what looks like egg drop soup.”
Get the water just right
Before you start heating the water, add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar for more acidity. “That helps the eggs come together quickly and prevents them from getting wispy,” says Joulwan. Bring the water to a boil, then take the temperature back down to a simmer before dropping in the eggs from a teacup or ladel. A rolling boil could break your eggs apart, but a simmer will still be hot enough to cook them.
Don’t plop it right on the plate
Timing is everything with poached eggs, so pay close attention to the timer before you even think about taking them out of the water. A runny yolk needs four minutes in the pot—just 30 seconds more and the yolk will be a bit thicker. Keep it in for five minutes if you prefer a gelled, custardy yolk, says Joulwan. Once it’s ready, use a slotted spoon to remove the water. Before plating it, set the cooked egg on a paper towel. “Gently pat to get the excess water off it so when you put it on the toast or English muffin, it’s not all waterlogged,” says Joulwan.
Cook for a crowd
Never try poaching more than two or three eggs in the same pot, says Joulwan. Not only will they bump into each other, but having more eggs in will bring the water temperature down and affect the delicate cooking time, says Joulwan. If you’re cooking for a crowd—or just want a more relaxing, reliable cooking method—use the oven instead, she says. Put a tablespoon of water in each cup of a muffin tray, then gently crack an egg in each section. Preheat your oven to 350°F, then slide the tray in. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes to keep the insides runny, or 14 to 15 minutes for firmer yolks. “It’s really easy, super reliable, and more relaxing on a weekend morning,” says Joulwan.