It's easy to poach an egg using a special piece of egg poaching cookware, but what about without one? Turns out it's just as easy. All you need is a saucepan, a slotted spoon, some water and some vinegar. Oh, and eggs, of course.
The whole trick to poaching an egg correctly is avoiding dissolving the egg in the water into a million pieces. This is what the vinegar is for. Salt helps too, but not as a replacement for the vinegar, only as an addition. This will work just fine without the salt too, if you're watching that kind of thing.
First bring the water in the saucepan to a rolling boil. Turn down the heat so the water is just below a simmer. Now add in your vinegar (a tablespoon should do it for a single saucepan) and, optionally, a pinch of salt.
The other element to keeping your poached eggs from turning into egg drop soup is in how you add the eggs. Crack each one, one at a time, into a small cup. Hold the cup just over the surface of the water and tip it to gently slide the egg into the water. The less impact the egg makes when it hits the water, the less likely it is to spread.
Consider the eggs poached when the whites have hardened – after about 3 minutes.
One final tip to keep the egg together is to use the freshest egg possible. They hold their shape the best.
Variations on a Theme
Now that you know the basics of how to poach an egg, the gates are off on the number and range of creative things you can do with them to produce a variety of tasty dishes.
Let's start with the liquid in which you simmer the eggs. It doesn't have to be water. It can be vegetable or chicken stock, milk or heavy cream, even wine or a pre-made sauce. Whatever liquid you cook the eggs in, it will infuse its flavor into them. That includes your choice of vinegar. Eggs poached in red wine vinegar will taste differently than those poached with apple cider vinegar, for example.
Speaking of sauces, there's no end to the array of sauces you can pour over poached eggs. The most familiar is probably Hollandaise Sauce, which is basically blended butter, egg yolks and lemon juice. Cream sauces and cheese sauces are common with poached eggs, but lighter sauces like mustard sauces and balsamic vinaigrettes work well too.
Even the plate on which you serve the poached eggs can contribute to the dish. For example, Eggs Florentine is poached eggs served atop creamed spinach covered in a cheese sauce called Mornay sauce. Poached eggs are commonly served over some sort of toasted bread or English muffin, as in Eggs Benedict, in which they're served on a bed of bacon over an English muffin and bathed in Hollandaise Sauce.
Poached eggs are a refreshing variation from traditional fried or scrambled eggs and can be healthier too. Of course there is a whole assortment of ways to serve them that may not be as healthy but could be even more delicious. However you choose to serve them, poaching the eggs themselves is the simplest part.