You've probably noticed that your social media feeds are full of gloriously perfect breakfasts that your friends have either made themselves or had served to them at a favorite restaurant. The centerpiece is often a perfectly poached egg, with the yolk oozing artfully onto the toast. You can get that look yourself (if your camera skills are up to the task) with a few practice eggs and an egg poacher.
Poached Eggs 101
The whole idea of poaching eggs is to cook them gently, so the whites retain a soft, delicate texture even after they're fully cooked. Traditionally, you do that by cracking the eggs directly into water that's at the gentlest of simmers.
But not everyone's comfortable poaching eggs this way, partly because it's messy – you'll have a lot of watery egg whites to clean up afterwards – and partly because it takes experience to know exactly when the eggs are perfectly cooked. Also, pouring away part of the egg with the cooking water is just plain wasteful. That's why a lot of cooks prefer to use a poacher pan.
Poached Eggs in an Egg Poacher
An egg poacher isn't an especially elaborate piece of equipment. It's basically just a lightweight skillet with a lid and an insert that holds a few individual cups for the eggs to rest in. You use it like a steamer: The water goes underneath, and steam cooks the eggs from below and above.
To use your poacher pan, fill it with water to the appropriate level. The poacher's instructions will usually tell you where that is, but as a rule you should be fine as long as the water's not actually touching the cups. Set the poacher over medium heat and let the water come up to the verge of a boil with the lid on. While that's happening, lightly spray or butter the egg cups.
Once the water is ready, open the lid and place the cups in the poacher, cracking a cold, fresh egg into each one. Replace the lid and turn the heat down to a gentle simmer – the lower the heat, the more delicate the egg – and let them cook for 4 to 6 minutes until the whites are set completely and the yolk is the way you like it. Remove the lid from the poacher and lift out the eggs one at a time using a cloth or oven mitt. Blot any surface moisture from them with a paper towel, then flip the eggs out of the cups onto a plate or toast.
The End Result
The finished egg that comes out of a poaching pan won't have the naturally oblong shape of an egg poached the traditional way in a pool of water, but will be perfectly circular and slightly domed instead. If you kept the water temperature low and gentle, it should be almost as tender as a traditional poached egg. If you find it's a bit rubbery, that's a sign the water was too hot.
Using a Microwave Poacher
Stove-top egg poachers usually cook four eggs at a time, and some can do six. If you ever want only one or two eggs at a time, a microwave poacher can be a good alternative for you. These are usually made of ceramic or silicone and are large enough to hold an egg and some water.
The basic technique is to pour water into the bottom of the poacher, usually 1/4 to 1/3 cup, or whatever amount the poacher instructions say. Then crack your egg into the water. Pierce the egg white and yolk in a few places with a toothpick to keep it from exploding in the microwave. Cook it for about a minute, give or take 5 to 10 seconds, depending how powerful your microwave is. If your egg isn't quite done, give it another 5 to 10 seconds or just let it sit in the hot water for a moment longer.
Once it's done to your liking, lift out the egg with a slotted spoon and serve it.
Improvising a Poacher Pan
If you'd like to try the pan method, but don't have a poacher, you can always improvise. If you have a vegetable steamer basket, you can place buttered ramekins, mugs or custard cups in the steamer and cook the eggs just as you would in the egg poacher. A trivet that fits into your favorite skillet works, as well.
In the microwave, any microwaveable or heatproof measuring cup, mug or small bowl will do the job. use it the same way you'd use a microwave egg poacher, covering it with plastic wrap or a loose-fitting lid to trap the steam. If you use plastic wrap, poke it in a few places with a toothpick so excess steam can escape.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.