The Grown-Up KitchenThe Grown-Up KitchenWelcome to The Grown-Up Kitchen, Skillet’s series designed to answer your most basic culinary questions and fill in any gaps that may be missing in your home chef education.PrevNextView All
At some point during my adult life, I became someone who wakes up at 6:30 a.m. I did not choose this path—I would always rather be sleeping, thanks—but I’m trying to make the best of my body’s sudden refusal to sleep in.
Rising early has forced me to re-evaluate my views on breakfast. I write about food for a living, so one might think that I have a big, delicious breakfast every single day. One would be wrong: it takes me several hours to concede that coffee and water are not food, and by the time that happens, I’m so furiously hangry that only the fastest, easiest meal will do. For me, that’s always been eggs and toast and, thanks to my imaginary mom Alice Medrich, I’m currently having a major poached egg moment.
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Poached eggs are a white whale for cooks of all experience levels. Everyone’s got their pet method—Strain off the excess whites! Add some vinegar to the water! Make a water vortex!—but none of these things simplify the process. Complicated, overly-fussy techniques are, to my eyes, diametrically opposed to the perfect simplicity of poached eggs. Enter Alice Medrich’s no-fail technique, which she learned from an ex-boyfriend:
“An old boyfriend taught me to make poached eggs. Rather, I watched him do it. He’d crack and ease the eggs one by one into a shallow pan of simmering water, plop the lid on the pan, turn off the heat, push toast in the toaster, and go shave. He’d stroll back into the kitchen clean-shaven, retrieve the toast, and plop the eggs on top. Nothing to it—and a nice memory.”
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(He sounds dreamy. Great catch-and-release work, Alice!)
I’ve been poaching eggs pretty successfully for a decade-plus, but I’m not exaggerating when I say this method changed my life. It’s fast, simple, and highly reproducible—which is just what I need for my first meal of the day. Here’s how to do it.
Add two-ish inches of water to a skillet or saucepan with a tight-fitting lid; bring to a simmer over high heat. If you store your sliced bread in the freezer like I do, now’s a good time to take a few slices out and put them in the toaster.
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Gently crack fridge-cold eggs straight into the simmering water one at a time—or into a ramekin/teacup/soup container first if you like—then put on the lid and turn off the heat. Start your toaster.
After three minutes, take the lid off and inspect your eggs. Large eggs will be just about done; jumbo eggs might need another minute or two.
Generously butter your toast, then fold a paper towel (or a clean cloth kitchen towel) over on itself a few times. Use a slotted spoon to remove each egg from the skillet, and blot off any excess water with the towel.
Transfer your eggs to buttered toast or a plate. Serve with salt and pepper, because hot sauce is for fried eggs.
The easy-breezy nature of this method should be enough to convince you to try it, but if the idea of abandoning your strainers and vinegar and vortices is making you itchy, here are three more entries in the “Pros” column. First, it completely dispenses with those shitty, wispy bits of egg white that make for ugly poaches—they sink to the bottom and fall clean off the rest of the white when you scoop out the eggs. Any residual stragglers can be neatly sliced off by pressing the spoon against the side of the skillet.
Second, cooking the eggs in completely still water denatures the egg white proteins gently and evenly, rather than aggressively and all at once like you’d get with a continuous simmer. This prevents the whites from fusing themselves to the sides and bottom of the goddamn skillet, so cleanup is so much easier.
Third, this method makes scaling a cinch. If you’re hosting a big brunch and are dead-set on eggs Benedict, just use more water and a bigger pan—and plan on cracking the eggs into a pourable vessel before adding them to the water.
As with all egg cookery, tweak the temperature and duration as needed to suit your tastes. I like a poached egg with a completely set white and a jammy yolk, so starting from a strong simmer works perfectly. However, if you’re craving a more classic poached egg situation—firm whites, fully liquid yolks—bring that water all the way to a roiling boil, crack in your eggs, then cover the pan and cut the heat. They’ll cook a bit faster, so check in after two minutes.
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Be warned: once you have this technique down, you may find that everything looks like a piece of toast. That’s just fine by me; after all, everything from fried rice to a pile of sautéed greens feels more like a meal with a poached egg on top.
This story was originally published in 2018 and updated with new information on 2/27/2020.