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What’s the best way to poach an egg?

Jo Romero
Jo Romero
28 September 2012

Fed up with watery poached eggs with wispy, thin whites and overcooked yolks? We put four egg poaching methods to the test.

The scientific method
He's made ice cream using liquid nitrogen and a seafood dish that comes complete with an iPod, so we kind of knew Heston Blumenthal wouldn't poach an egg by just cracking it into boiling water. In 'How to Cook Like Heston', he revealed his method for perfect poached eggs.

You'll need a cooking thermometer (to manage the exact temperature of the water), a spoon with small holes (to drain away any raw, watery egg white) and a plate positioned inside the saucepan (to diffuse the cooking heat).

After poaching, our egg was neat, perfectly cooked and practically free from wispy bits. The only problem we could see with it is that there's quite a bit of washing up, and you'd have to invest in a cooking thermometer if you didn't have one. But the egg was perfect.

The 'whisking' method
This method was demonstrated by Gordon Ramsay on 'The F Word'. You just whisk the boiling water until a vortex appears. The idea is that the egg white then wraps around the yolk in the swirling water, forming a ball.

You need to slip the egg in gently and quickly, right on the water's surface, so it's best to crack it into a ramekin first.

Our egg white quickly wrapped around its yolk, forming the perfect 'mozzarella ball' shape we were after. Adding white wine vinegar to the water also helps the egg hold its shape, and a quick plunge in iced water afterwards stops it overcooking.

This method seems to make the egg white around the yolk firmer than in other methods, so you're less likely to accidentally burst it before serving, and, although we expected it to taste of vinegar, it didn't.

The 'cling film' technique
Jamie Oliver showed us this method in 'Jamie's Great Britain'. You rub olive oil and seasonings (salt, pepper, chilli flakes) onto the inside of a cling-film lined cup and then crack in an egg. You then tie the top of the cling film and cook the wrapped egg in simmering water. What you get is a perfectly-formed, ready-seasoned disc of poached egg.

The bonuses are that you can cook lots of eggs at once and obviously the egg never turns soggy (as long as you tie the top of the cling film properly).

The negatives? Our egg parcel bobbed about in the water which meant it wasn't evenly cooked. It's also difficult to see how runny the egg is through the cling film.

But, as appearances go, it makes an excellent poached egg, and it's good that you can season it before cooking.

Shallow poaching
Probably one of the most common ways of poaching an egg, Delia Smith and Gino D'Acampo have recommended this method.

You just fill a frying pan with an inch or so of water, bring it to a simmer and then lower the egg gently in.

You need a super-fresh egg, anything older and the white will spread out, making it thin. We used supermarket eggs with 17 days before the best before date and this still happened.

It's a much gentler way of cooking eggs, and certainly less stressful than frantically whisking pots of boiling water, but could pose problems if you're not sure how fresh the eggs really are (probably most of us).

So which is best?
All the methods above gave us a silky, runny-yolked egg. The main differences were with the shape.

Poached egg Heston-style was perfectly cooked and neat, but we're not convinced we'd want to be clattering around with cooking thermometers and straining raw eggs first thing on a Sunday morning.

Jamie's cling-film method is less messy and great for poaching lots of eggs together, but it's less easy to judge how cooked the egg is through the cling film.

And for the shallow poaching technique you need really fresh eggs: a problem if you don't have hens in your back garden.

So, all things considered, we felt the whisking method was the best. You get a compact poached egg with a firm white and a soft yolk, and all you have to do is crack the egg into a ramekin and then lower it into the deep, swirling hot water.

Which do you think turned out the best? What's your method for poaching eggs

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