Testing our way through various methods for how to poach a egg in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, we went through dozens of eggs and gallons of simmering water trying out a variety of techniques gleaned from folklore and research.
Related: How to Soft-Boil an Egg
Our favorite (but ultimately least successful) method was cracking eggs into little plastic-wrap pouches, which were then submerged into the water. The technique promised a pot devoid of crusted egg whites on the waterline, but the reality was this: the eggs simply stuck to the plastic wrap. One favored restaurant method is to create a whirlpool in the water by vigorously stirring it in one direction. This method was all right for the first egg or two, but it just lost its current by the time the third and fourth eggs were going in, making a mess of the pot.
The most consistent method was the most simple: gently add eggs to the simmering water. Nothing fancy here. Though some cooks are adamantly against adding vinegar to the water, science shows it does help the egg white to coagulate quicker (and our tests confirmed this). Cracking the eggs into smaller bowls kept the whites and yolks in a more cohesive package, and submerging the lip of those bowls delivered them in a gentler way, helping to ensure intact yolks.
The following technique will help you to become the brunch cook who delivers perfectly cooked eggs in your fast-paced home.
Here's our favorite method for how to poach an egg:
Break 4 eggs into 4 individual small bowls. Fill a large, straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven with 2 inches of water; bring to a boil. Add 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar. Reduce to a gentle simmer: the water should be steaming and small bubbles should come up from the bottom of the pan.
Submerging the lip of each bowl into the simmering water, gently add the eggs, one at a time.
Cook for 4 minutes for soft set, 5 minutes for medium set and 8 minutes for hard set. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a clean dish towel to drain for a minute.