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Dish of the day: Poached eggs

Dan Doherty

poached eggs Dish of the day: Poached eggs“Add a little white wine vinegar to the water, and it’ll help the white set and give you lovely poached eggs”.

How that discovery has changed poached eggs the world over, and shares in vinegar, no doubt. It’s true, it does help you out when trying to obtain the perfect egg, but there is one small problem – vinegar isn’t too pleasant a taste first thing in the morning, and few chefs seem to understand only a splash is required, not a pint.

At our restaurant, due to the sheer volume, we actually slow poach our eggs at a particular temperature, that way they are consistent, and are not pre-cooked, stored in water in the fridge. And no vinegar is required at all.

Here’s a little window into how some (not all) kitchens work.

  1. Eggs are poached (in too much vinegar)
  2. They are refreshed in ice water.
  3. They are stored in a tub of water until needed.
  4. Check comes on, hand goes in, takes egg, no doubt crushing 3 on the way, reheat in more vinegary water (this I really don’t understand, as the egg is already cooked, no amount of vinegar will change it this time round)

Now, there re many issues I have here.

  1. Eggs taste of vinegar.
  2. When any chef poaches eggs, unless they really have nothing to do, they will be doing as many as possible at any given time. This results in a) inconsistent eggs, as you have no idea which went in first, and the 30 seconds between the time the first one went in and the last is a long time in the world of eggs, and, b) wastage.
  3. Storing eggs in water just feels gross.
  4. For every egg that gets used, more often than not 1 gets broken form clumsy chef hands. Now, either you accept a rubbish goo on a dish, or you increase your price to compensate your failings. Both not cool at all.
  5. When an egg has been pre-poached, you find it hard to heat the yolk and keep it runny. If they have been perfectly poached, this is easily achievable, but I refer you back to point 2 for why I don’t like this.

Now, why am I getting so intense about eggs? Well, I love eggs, and something happened at work the other day that made me realise sometimes chefs can be totally ridiculous in their ways.

As I said, we cook all of our eggs in the shell, therefor no vinegar required at all, zero. We have a temperature controlled bath that cooks them at a certain temperature, and when we get a ticket on, we crack the cooked egg into boiling water to give a little boost of heat, so when they reach the table they are perfect.

Last week, a trial shift was on eggs, and as he gave me a portion for a full English, I saw a dark grey foam on them. When questioned, he said it was from the vinegar. I knew straight away that he had used balsamic, but wanted to understand his logic, so I played dumb. “Why have you used that?” I asked. “Because we have no white wine vinegar”. Ok. Here we go. “Why are you using vinegar at all?” I persisted. “It holds the white, innit” he told me. Holds it from what? IT’S ALREADY COOKED. Crack an egg and tell me what you see. A perfectly round, set egg, that’s what.

No need people, lay off the vinegar and enjoy the pure eggyness of eggs. Ugly eggs that taste of eggs will always conquer pretty ones that taste of vinegar.

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  • Peter

    What temperature is right for the temperature-controlled bath?

  • stonedwolf

    This is a famous “chef’s myth”. A total and utter fallacy… as evidenced by that famous baldy Heston Blumenthal when he went through each of the various poached-egg fallacies. He then went on to his own “perfect” method which involved a thermometer.

    My version is easier and more reliable than his – or the method from this article.

    How to Poach an Egg – The Masterclass

    (1) Refrigerate your egg. (THIS is “THE TRICK”).

    (2) Boil your water. On a rolling boil turn the heat down.

    (3) Crack egg into water.

    (4) Raise the temperature until you see some movement in the water.

    (5) Turn temperature down again and watch the egg.

    (6) Scoop out with a slotted spoon when done.

    With a room-temperature egg the yolk is cooking at the same speed. The result is almost always overcooked, and the whites – almost dissolving into water – can be stringy and runny.

    The trick here is the yolk, centrally located and insulated relatively to the white, is colder than the white, so it cooks slower. You’ll SEE it finishing off well after the whites are done. The whites, which are more viscous when cold, do not tend to run and shred. Avoid stirring, and avoid in step (4) too much movement (the first hint is enough).

    Masterclass over. You’re welcome. Next week the PERFECT cup of tea.

  • stonedwolf

    FRANK ADMISSION: this really only works for a couple of eggs in a pan at a time as the coldness of too many eggs over-cools the pan.

    Ideal in the home when you don’t have a thermometer bath or the need to cook fifty eggs, but I can and do see the value of a TB in a restaurant.

  • Jacques de Grey

    Vinegar is a no-no – it has zero effect. Think of it as a homeopathic ingredient…

  • Heathbar

    I crack my egg into a teacup first, then slide it into simmering water, first allowing a little bit of water to enter the cup. Sometimes I add a dash of vinegar, sometimes not. The vinegar taste reminds me of childhood, as my mum used to put plain white vinegar in.
    Lift out with slotted spoon, and use a folded piece of kitchen roll underneath to catch dripping water. Stops toast getting wet.

  • Sam Watson

    “Storing eggs in water just feels gross.”
    “why am I getting so intense about eggs?”
    “chefs can be totally ridiculous in their ways”

    This could have been an interesting article, spoiled by a strange compulsion to write as though its aimed at a 12 year old girl. Some of your readers are adults. (or maybe I’m just feeling grumpy today, in which case I’m, like, totally soz lol).


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