How to poach an egg.

Or perhaps more appropriately… How I poach my eggs.

Eggs are one of my favourite breakfast foods. Bacon being the ultimate companion to eggs, and hash browns their illegitimate half brother. When asked how I’d like my eggs, I will 9 times out of ten say poached. I don’t know what it is, but poaching eggs seems to me to be the most true to form way to appreciate the luscious eggy goodness, as the yolk spills out in a molten lava like cascade of yellow gold into a well toasted slice of thick crusty bread.

Until recently however, I’d be using the lazy mans method of poaching eggs. That is, fill a frying pan with a couple of centimetres of water… get it to a simmer, crack in some eggs, and gently splash water over the surface of the yolk until it turns a nice shade of pink. The end.

This method works ok… but I’d always wondered how cafes and restaurants managed to serve me those great little poached egg cocoons… with the white wrapped around the yolk in a tight protective little ball, waiting to gush out as soon as its cut into.

So enter Gordon Ramsey to save the day. I should have known i’d find my salvation from a loud annoying Englishman who swears too much… Actually, for all his short comings as a general human being, Gordon makes some great food, and the book he put out after the Kitchen Hell series was full of a great set of “basic” cooking techniques to know… like how to dry lettuce leaves, how to make a white sauce, how to fillet, pinbone, and skin fish… and… how to poach an egg.

The technique is really very simple, but I love the results.


Get a large heavy based pot and fill it with water. Get the water boiling and season it well with white wine vinegar. The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white, which will make it hold together, and give a nice rounded shape.

Then, using fresh eggs (which is important, as fresh eggs will have the white clinging to the yolk quite strongly), crack them into a shallow cup to make sure they aren’t broken. Then use a slotted spoon to spin the boiling water into a sort of a whirlpool/vortex/worm hole in the space time continuum.

Once the water is spinning quite fast, drop the egg from the cup into the centre of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and hopefully coat the yolk all around in a nice little ball of the egg white as it hardens. You can do a couple of eggs at a time if you’re feeling adventurous, but I normally stick to one to make sure i’m not going to mash one up while I’m spinning the water again.

This method needs only a minute or two in the boiling water for the egg to be ready, with the yolk still at a nice thick but runny consistency (which is exactly how I like it), having been sheilded from the heat, snug in the wooley cotton brains of infancy (sorry, Jim Morrison flashback).

So if you’re a self confessed egg lover, yet to experience the glorious highs of true yolk appreciation… give this method a try and let me know what you think.

Poached Duck Eggs Prick me, do I not exude yolk Nectar of the birds

51 thoughts on “How to poach an egg.”

  1. Agrred on poached eggs, they are luscious especially when some wicked hollandaise is added! For some reason I’m very lazy when it comes to cooking brekky at home so have only ever gone to the trouble of poaching once, I did use the vingar whirlpool method & it worked a treat for me also.

  2. Hey Deb,

    No you don’t salt the water at all… Not really necessary as you’ll most likely be salting them afterwards, and the vinegar is the important part for the egg white cocoon formulation.

    Hi Ange, I should really learn to make a proper hollandaise sauce. The last two times I’ve tried were a disaster… Once the egg cooked too quickly and I had scrambled eggs in my double boiler…and the second time all I could taste was butter… not good. Eggs Benedict is a great fancy breakfast (as long as I can sneak in some bacon somewhere). :)

  3. Hi Matt,

    I’m also a fan of poached eggs but have been similarly lazy. I went on a bit of a Flickr rampage a few weeks ago to find the perfect conditions for soft-boiling an egg. Perhaps it’s time to try the same experiment with poaching. Thanks for the tips!


    PS: The similarity count is now 3: risotto, salsa (dancing), and eggs :)

  4. Hey Karen,

    Thanks for dropping by. Give this method a try and I guarantee it will turn out great (well either great or terrible depending on too many factors to count). But if I can make it work then anyone can. I’ll update this post with some photos the next time I make some.

    You better not say you’re into coffee, homemade pizza/pasta, Ozomatli, or secretly plotting world domination through subverise blogging tactics… because I’d be checking to make sure we’re not the same person.

    Dame !

  5. Hey Matt,

    I’m totally against the swirling method … just doesn’t seem to work as well as using a good slug of vinegar, cracking into a cup and then pouring into the simmering water above where some of the bubbles are rising (Michel Roux technique). I don’t really get how restauranteurs could ever use the swirling method; how the hell can you poach 30 eggs at once doing that?

    The neat thing with poached eggs is that you can pre-cook them, as long as you keep the yolks quite runny, then bring them back by putting them in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds.

    The scariest technique that I ever saw was from our chef back at maltitude; he used to crack all of the eggs on to a plate, get a pan with 5cm of water and no vinegar going, then just tip the whole plate in and somehow end up with 30 perfect poached eggs … madness!



  6. Luca, you are a had man to please. I too have reservations on how effective this method would be on a large scale… If I had a cafe full of people all wanting poached eggs on toast… I think you’d be battling to get the whirlpool going for each one in time. However in my little cucina, there is no problem with me taking my sweet time to make them (depending on hunger level), and so far I’ve found the results remarkably good.

    Thats the second time in 2 days I’ve heard Michel Roux mentioned, which makes me think I should be reading his books… If only everything came on spoken word cassettes I’d be set.

    I’ll give that method a try and compare and contrast.

    Stands for stopping by.


  7. Its also important to note that the wirlpool needs to be spinning clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere as opposed to anti clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. Like low pressure systems in meteorology.

    You really need to watch the speed of your wirlpool also as if its spinning too fast it will pull the eggs apart and you end up with rubbish. I spin up the vortex and then let is slow down, when you drop your eggs is (from as close to the water as possible) they should land on the bottom of the pot and you should see the residual bits of egg white slowly swirl around and wrap themselves into the main egg body.

    The other good thing with the vinegar is that it makes the water boil in smaller bubbles when compared to normal boiling water. You can use these bubbles to help you note the speed of the water vortex.

    In a hospitality situation they have a commercial egg poacher, which is kind of like a Bain Marie with a muffin tray sitting in it which you crack your eggs in.

    Toasted Sunblest 9 Grain, Butter, Coon Cheese and Poached eggs mmmmmmm :)

  8. Howdy Mimmo,

    Thanks for swinging by and commenting on both this post and the cafe one. I can’t see how spinning the water according to the hemisphere you’re in would make any difference, but I have always been spinning it clockwise… So maybe i just got lucky.

    You do make an excellent point about the speed of the spinng because I’ve been prone to destroying the egg a few times due to over zealous whirlpool motions.

    Clearly a good cook needs to have a mastery of both physics and chemistry to get things just right… Which is making all my first year uni classes seem less worthless after all :)


  9. He Matt,

    No probs, just helping to share my wealth of knowledge when it comes to Poaching an egg ;) I eat enough of them!!

    Yeah if you spin the water anti clockwise it will pull the egg apart, just like a tornado sucking everything in, spinning it clockwise sucks all the egg around itself.


  10. I am clearly out of my league science wise… Thanks for the detail Mimmo, much appreciated :) My kitchen is going to look like a science lab next time I’m poaching.


  11. All hail the humble egg for there is not a tastier treat that pops out the under side of a chicken. I too agree that poaching is the purest method for enjoying eggy goodness. Matt, you’ve probably heard this before, but just in case you haven’t, here is a song penned by someone who must be equally passionate about eggs as you (if not a little more so):

  12. Dammit Matt I knew I’d find how to poach egge here some how. I can never seem to get it right so now I have a new trick to try. I’m going to make the worst possible pun now and say that I’ll be poaching your idea for eggs for breakfast this weekend. Mrs Grendel makes a wicked Hollandaise (I always said she was saucier than most, or perhaps it is because she was a saucier’s apprentice) but I think just the eggs over a nice whole grain toast would be a real treat. In fact I reckon I’ll pick up the eggs and the bread later today and have it for dinner!

  13. Hey Grendel… seek and ye shall find :)

    Thanks for reminding me of this one, so I could update the photos to some more better shots I’ve taken recently of poaching adventures. I do love a good hollandaise… made all the tastier for the effort of preparing it to order. For a more luxurious treat, try poaching duck eggs instead. They have less white than chicken eggs, but much more yolk… The new photos down the bottom are some duck eggs I poached recently that would have to rate amongst my fav ever.

  14. I should have taken some photos of my lunch – poached up nicely they did, Ah well, guess I’ll just have to have eggs again tomorrow – such a shame!


  15. This is the same recipe i have had in my mind for years…. this morning was the morning i was going to try it (especially since we have found a hollandaise sauce pre-made). Decided to
    confirm the recipe and method which was exact. Worked perfectly. The bigger (in diameter) the
    better… seems the momentum keeps the eggs rotating in the middle… (smaller pot has more
    resistance and therefor slows down rotation very soon).. also a large pot allows the cup with egg in it to get closer to the water for dumping. Used white distilled vinegar as opposed to brown vinegar. My tendency was to pull the egg out too soon… however, after inspecting a few times.. it appears a medium heat for 2-3 minutes while water is still moving (may have to continue to stir if a small pot used). Many thanks for the perfect poached egg. One thing i may add.. is to roll the egg onto paper towel (one that doesn’t have fibers come off).. this ensure that the hot toast does not get soggy. Simply place egg on paper towel.. then roll off onto the toast. Cheers.

  16. All good advice but eggs out of the refrigerator take longer and so do king size. Heres another method
    line a bowl with a sheet of glad wrap. drop your egg
    9gently) in the bowl. bring up the sides of the glad wrap. expel the air. Twist the x/s glad wrap and tie a firm knot. boil your pot of water and lower your glad wrapped egg(s) cook to the consistancy that you like – 3 to 5 minutes. cut the knot and you have a perfect poached egg. neverthe less i use the vinegar and sirl method for 2 or 3 eggs

  17. Thanks for the tip Elliot. I’ve tried the cling wrap method in the past, with pretty odd results… which was perhaps due to my lack of cling wrap prowess… but I wasn’t really inspired to try again. Agree that using eggs out of the fridge and larger sizes definitely makes a difference.

  18. I wonder if it is possible to start with the egg wrapped and then when the outer albumen has set, roll it out into the water. . .

    Perhaps I’ll just keep stirring!

  19. Nothing better than good fresh eggs hey….? So, where is the best place to get some? Has someone got some happy chooks in their back yard that wants
    to swap for fresh coffee? Which chooks have the best eggs? Apart from
    freshness what makes a really good egg?

  20. I’ve got VERY happy chooks Kam… Happy because even though they hardly ever ever squeeze out an egg these days, I am too much of a softie to “do the deed” and dispatch them. Thus we now have the “Sunshine Retirement Villa for Non-Productive Chickens”… Mmmm

    However, when they were in peak condition we always had the most amazingly golden yolks when they were eating lots of “greens”.

    Eerily enough I have just had poached eggs for lunch! Didn’t bother with ANY of that afore mentioned crap… too hungry… too impatient! My eggs had an organic (both in the artistic and culinary sense),wild and unabandoned form… and tasted damn fine to me!


  21. Just has some for dinner, poached with a fresh salsa and a whole little jar of trout eggs. Mmmm… roe. Had that very popular brand of sour dough bread that used to be really good. From what I understand they changed their ovens from wood to gas and it’s gone very average. Crying shame. So, where does one go in Perth for really good artisan bread?

  22. If I had a dollar for how many times i’ve been asked how to poach eggs…it’s like the Holy Grail! In hospitality land, I’m not sure the swirl would be fast enough as said above. The system I’ve used for years is this:
    One good old fashioned, deep electric frypan.
    Fresh, fresh eggs (from Margaret River Free Range)
    Cold eggs
    White Vinegar
    Good quality tea towel.

    Bring as much water as you can fit in the pan to the boil with a good splash of vinegar. In these electric frypans, you can see the water coming to a rolling boil over the element area of the pan particularly. Provided this boil is at say, “medium-fast pace”, crack your eggs very quickly into the water, over that said area.
    Three or so minutes later and voila! Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and lightly tilt onto a tea towel to absorb the excess water to prevent soggy toast. A good linen tea towel won’t have lint.
    Of course, as with all things food and coffee, there is a ‘feel’ component and we have the advantage of getting the practice poaching thousands of eggs!
    Good artisan bread?? Tricky. I am starting to find consistency a problem, also coinciding with expansion of premises. I think there’s a real gap in this area in Perth.

  23. I’ve always said,… you’ve got the best eggs. I’ve been using the Marg River ones as well. I’m the guy at the supermarket that pulls the display appart looking for the best use by date. I also swap eggs between the cartons to make sure I’ve got a full set with good vibrations. If you half close your eyes and hold the tip of your index finger just above the pointier end of the eggs you’ll know what I mean. No two are the same, take my word for it… I’m an eggspert on the matter.

  24. And here’s me thinking I was obsessive over eggs… I’ve been using some Busselton Free Range Vegi Eggs lately (ie: they’re only fed on vegetables, which I guess is good ?), although I had a couple of dodgy ones in my last carton, so I might employ your egg swapping techniques Kam.

    Clare, thanks for the tips on poaching in hospitality land… Yeh, I can’t imagine the swirl technique would be great when there’s 15 people all wanting eggs benedict at once… Just wondering if it’s common to plunge the eggs into ice water just after they’ve set to reheat later ?

    Lorraine, you can send some of your happy chook eggs my way anytime :) As well as some of your retired layers… I hear coq au vin is all the better for using older birds… something about thicker bones making a richer sauce…

  25. I know within the industry it does get done. It seems to be more in restaurants where breakfast service isn’t the major part of what they do…it can be part of the prep. In cafes, where breakfast is a more important part of the business, then made to order seems to be the go! I honestly can’t think of anything worse. Fortunately, nowhere I’ve worked has ever done that.
    Does anyone haver any tips on great bread in Perth that provides wholesale?

  26. I’m not sure which place(s) are being referred to in regards to the bread going downhill, but I love the ciabatta or the pagnotta from Lawley’s on Beaufort Street. It’s become a ritual of mine to wake up on a Saturday morning and jump on the bike to get it fresh first thing. Their millefuiles (sp?) are pretty good too.

  27. I hear there is a good German sour dough baker at 455 William St Northbridge. Mum just brought me the ad in the local German mag. It says that they only use their own sour dough culture, bake on a stone plate and they don’t use any additives or preservatives. Oma likes their bread so it may be worth a try. Don’t know about wholesale.

  28. If your eggs were laid more than a week ago, you need to swirl. If you buy eggs from a large chain supermarket, your eggs are likely to have been laid three weeks prior, due to the logistics of handling, warehousing etc.

    The fresher the eggs the less water you need. Old eggs need deep water as they will take longer to congeal and may stick to the bottom of the pan.

    Mayonnaise, Hollandaise & Bernaise all follow the same method – only mayo does not use heat and requires mustard & oil. The fresher your yolks, the thicker it will be. Don’t bother with old eggs.

    Hollandaise: take fresh yolks and put them in a bowl over a pan of hot water and whisk. While whisking, gradually introduce melted butter or melted ghee. Don’t try adding solid butter, the milk solids will make it curdle. Whisk until the desired consistency is achieved and finish with some salt, pepper and lemon juice. For Bernaise finish with vinegar and optionally, fresh chopped herbs.

    If you need to walk away from the stove during the cooking, remove the bowl from the pan of water as it will continue to cook and will curdle or go lumpy without constant stirring.

    Once you’ve made your own, you will not go back to insipid packets of the stuff. Use the left over whites for a souffle, meringue or – in my case – Chinese Dumplings and Chicken and sweetcorn soup.

  29. Indeed Sticky… you are an informative one :) My issue is that I don’t have chooks roaming around the balcony of my apartment, so store bought ones are as good as I can get, and you have no real control over the freshness, despite my best attempts at buying local free range, quick to market etc. The swirling I see more as a matter of style, rather than a necessary addition… I really need to update this whole article with video and optional extras… Like the extended DVD edition perhaps.

    Also good call on the hollandaise, which I’ve made on occasions with my own clarified butter… it came out really nice, but not great enough for me to go to the effort on regular basis… I think I need to retitle this blog “Lethargic Gourmet” :)

  30. hey this is great!

    i used to work at oxford 130 and one of the things they beat into us day after day was how to poach eggs perfectly, and it was this exact method.

    it is a skill i have not forgotten and find incredibly valuable! YUM

    I was unable to create the dramatic vortex/wormhole Matt describes. Maybe this is because in the Northern Hemisphere the water spins in the wrong direction. Nonetheless my best results were lovely, surprisingly symmetrical ovals, unlike any poached eggs I have seen before, almost the shape they were in before they left the shell. Cooking these in a big, heavy pot produces more of a carbon footprint for these eggs than I would prefer. I think I will continue to experiment, using a smaller pot filled deep.

  32. Pingback: Me, Mia.
  33. Dear egg girl of course they’re ‘just eggs’ but there are eggs and eggs and you really want to consistently enjoy them at their best.
    I poach eggs at home two or three times every week and have used every conceivable method (I think) Most recently I use an egg ring covered in just boiling water in a non stick high sided fry pan. Gently drop the eggs into the rings and cook for 4 minutes 15 seconds (Use a timer) These are perfect for me but if you like the yolks less runny add 15 seconds.

  34. Mister Elliot
    Here, in Egg Land, we do take in cosideration all the human methods of trying to poach an egg. But because we are locals (egg landers) we still keep in mind that they’r just lovely little chicken projects.
    Perhaps we’ll see each other egging around some day soon,
    have a eggly day!

  35. Bacon Boy here

    Just wanted to say that we in brekkieville are very concerned with human methods used to fry my people! I’m sure egg girl will agree that being poached and persecuted is no fun at all! All human methods of cookery are most torturous to our people and we wish you would leave us be in peace!

    Have a sizzling day,
    Mr. Pork

  36. I never met an egg I didn’t like :) with Eggs Benedict being my all-time fave (cooked by someone else of course LOL) or at home I too am rather partial to bacon and hash browns (ooh, and why not throw some mushrooms in the pan while yr at it *drool)

    I must say I have never managed to perfect the “swirlie” method of poached eggs, I’m a bit of a kitchen nightmare … not so much a good cook, as a guinea pig for those that are *yum* I’m a friend of Tash whom you met at the MasterChef auditions :) she pointed me at yr site knowing my love of food (more the eating side, that is ;) just thought I’d say *hi* :D

  37. I’d just like to chime in here and state that I made poached eggs this morning – sans vortex – and they came out perfectly.

    I’m not here to bash Abstract Gourmet, but it is nice to try to knock him down a peg or two sometimes ;-)

  38. This discussion has been going on fo years and yet I have something new to offer. It’s dead simple. Take a non stick pan put one approximately 3 inch cookie cutter in the pan for each egg. Cover with water to the height of the eggs. Bring to the boil. Gently drop one egg into the centre of each cookie cutter Turn heat down as soon as water boils again. Experiment with timer to have your eggs as you like them (Exactly 4 minutes for me – soft yolk just cooked white) Remove eggs with slotted spatula. Pat dry if necessary with paper towel and serve as desired
    Nothing fancy. Works perfectly every time

  39. Perfect! I’ve resisted poaching my own eggs for years, always believing it was too difficult to get that perfect cafe style egg a home, that was until this morning!

  40. No quality chef uses vinegar. Eggs should taste like eggs. A SMALL amount of salt in just simmering water and a little care give perfect poached eggs. If the eggs are cracked onto a table spoon and lowered into the water they hold together and look and taste great.

  41. Hi Allan
    It’s remarkable that there are so many ways of poaching eggs. In fact many quality chefs do use vinegar. James Beard for one, Pignatelli for another and it is used in The Joys of Cooking. Neil Perry says you don’t need it for very fresh eggs but puts in his method. Stephanie Alexander doesn’t mention vinegar but adds a pinch of salt and so on and so on.

    1. Hi Alan, Thanks for the unsubstantiated opinion, and thanks Elliot for the rapid shutdown. Not everyone in the world has access to eggs the minute they leave a chickens cloaca, and in such instances I’ve found a splash of vinegar to be a very useful addition in my egg poaching process that doesn’t affect the flavour of the end product adversely. If it’s good enough for Michel Roux Jnr (the man who wrote an entire book solely about Eggs) then it’s good enough for me.

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