For years and years I was terrified of poaching eggs.
They would always disintegrate emerging broken, soggy and miserable.No amount of toast could save them.
But then I discovered why; it wasn’t me, it was the eggs!
I’ll tell you why later, but here are some useful things to know about eggs.
We use eggs extensively in cooking. Eggs coagulate, or set, when they are cooked; you can see this in scrambled, poached or fried eggs and omelettes. Quiches, and frittata, bread & butter pudding, crème caramel and even ice cream all rely on egg coagulation.
Eggs enrich cakes improving their texture and keeping qualities. They also aerate sponges as the elastic proteins in the eggs hold air bubbles in.
Eggs bind mince mixtures, helping them stay together when cooked.
Surprisingly perhaps, mayonnaise is an egg-based sauce. Egg yolk is the emulsifying agent, which means it makes the oil and vinegar stay bound together.
As eggs age their characteristics change which alters the way they behave in cooking.
The membranes around the yolk and the inner shell both become weaker. When the shells of boiled eggs just slip off beautifully, it’s because the weakened membrane allows it. Peeling very fresh eggs can be a disaster because the shells just will not peel off.
Eggs have two types of white; thick and thin. If you crack one into a saucer this is very easy to see.
The protective thick white sits snugly around the yolk, while the thin white forms the outer layer. In fresh eggs the thick white is predominant but, as the egg stales, the situation is reversed; the proportion of thin white increases.
Fried or poached eggs that spread wildly in the pan are older and have larger amounts of thin white, hence the problem.
All eggs have an air pocket at their blunt end which increases in size as the eggs ages. Eggs that crack when plunged into hot water do so because the expanding air can’t escape through the permeable shell quickly enough. Start boiled eggs in cool water to avoid the problem; just remember to time them from when the water boils, not from when you put them in.
For meringue enthusiasts though the news is all good. Stale egg white makes better meringue. Greater volume can be achieved because the proteins are more elastic and allow a greater proportion of air to be incorporated.
And for poaching … the key to successful poached eggs? Use fresh eggs.
The yolk membranes are firm so they hold the yolk in place. The thick egg white is predominant so the eggs will just rest in the water without running everywhere.
Trust me, attempting to poach stale eggs is a fraught activity; they disintegrate and emerge broken, soggy and miserable.
HOW TO MAKE PERFECT POACHED EGGS:
Bring a shallow pan of water to the simmer.
The water needs to be deep enough to submerge the eggs. Add a dash of white vinegar – this helps to hold the whites together.
Gently crack one egg into a small cup – I like to use the eggs straight from the fridge.
Ease the egg into the simmering water and then repeat with a second egg.
Let the eggs cook gently for 5 minutes or so. The white should be firm but the yolk still runny.
While the eggs are cooking resist the temptation the move them around excessively, but ensure they are not stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon.