We've received several requests for a column explaining how to properly poach eggs. Admittedly, there are pans that cook eggs in individual molds over hot water, but the classic method is to cook them in simmering water.
Use a 10- to 12-inch skillet. Some experts suggest lightly coating the bottom and sides of the pan with shortening to prevent the eggs from sticking.
Add water to a depth of 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low so that the water just simmers. Boiling water will toughen the eggs and the agitation may break them apart. On the other hand, if the water is not hot enough, the eggs will not cook rapidly enough and the whites will spread.
Squeezing a few drops of lemon juice (Step 1) or vinegar into the water will help to firm the egg whites more quickly and retain the rounded shape but it also affects the flavor of the eggs. If the lemon or vinegar is omitted, the best alternative is to use the freshest eggs possible, straight from the refrigerator so they are still cold.
Checking Our Sources
Although some sources we checked suggested adding salt to the water, others claim it tends to make the egg whites runny.
When ready to begin cooking, break each egg into a ramekin or cup. Hold the ramekin close to the surface of the water and gently slide the egg down the side of the pan (Step 2) into the water. Three to four eggs may be cooked at once, but don't overcrowd the pan.
Simmer, uncovered, 3 to 5 minutes. Then carefully lift the eggs with a slotted spoon or spatula (Step 3) and lightly touch them with your finger (Step 4) to check the doneness.
By past standards, poached eggs were cooked when the white was firm and yolk still soft. It should be noted, however, that due to recent outbreaks of food-borne illness caused by raw eggs contaminated with \o7 Salmonella enteritidis, \f7 the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises consumers there may be some risk in eating eggs lightly cooked. To kill any bacteria that may be present, eggs must be cooked until both the yolks and whites are firm.
When properly poached, eggs are rounded with well-centered yolks. Sometimes, however, their appearance can be improved by trimming off the ragged edges. If the eggs are to be served at once, drain briefly on paper towels.
The eggs may be stored up to 24 hours by placing them in a bowl of cold water and refrigerating. Reheat the eggs briefly in hot water before serving.
Poached eggs may be served simply, with toast, or dressed up with cheese or tomato sauce. Add English muffins, Canadian bacon and Hollandaise sauce to create eggs Benedict.
\o7 Suggestions for column topics may be sent to Back to Basics, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.