"Look at that white spreading. What do you think this is -- egg drop soup? Final score: 5.3"
"There are some threads, but the white is forming some cohesive shape. It actually looks like an oval. Oh no, but that yolk is way off center and bulging out. A poached egg is not a fried sunny side up. Final score: 7.5."
"It's looking good, the white is together, the yolk is enclosed. But look at that shape -- way too long. It needs to be closer to a circle. Final score: 8.7."
"It's lovely. Perfectly oval, but not too elongated. The white is together, the yolk is enclosed. It's just a tad off center, so the judges might take a few points off, but other than that it's perfect! Final score: 9.8"
I don't know if 10 ever happens in real life. That's the holy grail of an absolutely perfect poached egg. With enough tinkering and trimming we can get extremely close, yet it always remains ever so slightly out of our reach.
My egg poaching score has been hovering around 7 for over a year now. With enough trimming my eggs didn't look completely dilapidated, but the yolk was sticking out and it resembled a sunny side up egg more than a poached one. I have tried every trick known to man or at least to U-Tube (from CIA instructor to Jacques Pepin to your average Joe). It was good to know that I was not the only person having serious trouble with this supposedly simple technique. Rob Manuel at b3ta documented four ways to poach an egg and I have tried them all except for the vortex method because he seemed to have such disastrous results with it. His final success of poaching an egg in plastic wrap worked for me too, but I had some concerns about cooking the plastic wrap. You should see this thing when it comes out of the water -- there is definitely some chemical reaction going on there because the plastic wrap melts slightly.
I almost gave up hope for a perfectly poached egg until last week. I was looking through the recipes from Persimmon's soup class that Jessica (one of my students) was kind enough to share with me and noticed instructions for how to make a poached egg (served with one of the soups). Chef Champe Speidel recommended the vortex method, but unlike other sources he described it in enough detail to make me want to give it a try. Here is the basic idea: you create motion in the water that wraps the egg white around the yolk. The devil is in the details of course. Here is what I've learned from Champe's recipe.
- You need a gallon of water. It never occurred to me to put one egg into this much water. I thought that the more water you have, the more the egg spreads.
- You need 3 Tbsp vinegar per gallon. I usually used way less thinking it gave the egg an unpleasant taste.
- Use a whisk to create the vortex in the water. You really need to create some momentum in the water and drop the egg the second you stop whisking.
- Poach eggs one at a time for 4 minutes each.
- The ice-bath is not optional even if you are serving the eggs immediately. You still need to rinse the vinegar and all the loose pieces of white.
By the way, this wasn't even a particularly fresh egg (it sat in my fridge for a week). The generally accepted wisdom about poached eggs is that they have to be very fresh for the white not to spread.
I tested the same technique in a smaller pot using only 1.5 quarts of water and it didn't work as well. The egg sank and flattened before the white had a chance to completely enclose it.
I have good news and bad news for you my friends. The good news is that I now know how to make a perfect poached egg. The bad news is that I only know how to make one perfect egg per pot, and I don't think Olympic judges would like that. My scores for subsequent eggs follow an exponential decay curve. My first intuition was that it had something to do with the temperature of the eggs. They must have warmed up while waiting their turn. I tried keeping the eggs in the fridge until it's their turn to take a dive, but still no luck. I have a feeling that the egg white remaining in the pot of water attracts the white of the egg that is supposed to be poaching and pulls it away from the yolk. Whenever I start from scratch and bring a completely new pot of water to a boil, the eggs start behaving again. Could it be that the vinegar evaporated? It's a mystery. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.