Words Harriet Boucher, Images Brydie Thompson
As a chef, people are always asking me for cooking tips. One of the most common queries is how to poach eggs. So, to start off the ‘Harriet’s How To’ segment, I am going to dive right into world renowned chefs’ take on perfect poachies. I was taught by the Egg Queen of Hamilton, Ashleigh Brodie, who uses a deep pot of rapidly simmering water, a good glug of white vinegar and fresh, fridge cold eggs. The eggs are cracked straight into the water, no swirling needed, and after around 3 minutes 45 seconds, you have a beautifully shaped poached egg with a runny yolk. Funnily enough, eggs are my most despised food, so my partner Daniel, Mr Pickles head chef, has done the tasting for me!
Gordon’s method of poaching seems a bit fiddly at first for someone who is used to poaching 10 eggs at a time. He cracks each one into a ramekin and whisks the pot to create a whirlpool before gently tipping the egg into the simmering water, which has a good pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar in it. His timing of 2 minutes per egg wasn’t long enough, but after leaving it in for a minute longer, I pulled out a beautifully shaped poached egg. The dash of vinegar was enough to coagulate the egg whites but didn’t leave a lingering vinegar taste. The yolk was perfectly runny, and the egg was devoured by Dan. I’m not sold on cracking the egg into the ramekin because, really, that’s just creating more dishes, but for the home cook after a nicely shaped egg, this is definitely a good trick to have up your sleeve.
I picked Ottolenghi’s method of poaching for this experiment as it was quite different to how I poach my eggs, and, honestly, it was a big fail. I followed the recipe to a tee. I filled a large saucepan with water, enough to come 2 inches up the sides—I even got out a ruler! Then I added the vinegar, brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer. I cracked the eggs in, cooked for 1 minute then removed the pan onto my bench away from the heat for the next 10 minutes. What I got was closer to a hard-boiled egg, and I was questioning what I had done wrong! Next time I would check the egg after 5–6 minutes, looking for a soft poached egg, as this method wasn’t well received by my test taster.
Where do I start with this one? It was time consuming, texturally confusing and visually unappealing. David Chang from Momofuku uses the Onsen technique, where the eggs sit in a pot of 63-degree water for 40–45 minutes. I had my thermometer in the water the entire time and it sat perfectly at temperature, so I was confident I was going to nail this one. At 40 minutes, we cracked an egg open, and it flopped out, surrounded by a pool of loose whites. I gave the next egg another 5 minutes and was left with a similar result. So, after another 10 minutes, 55 in total, I cracked open my final egg and the extra time really hadn’t made a difference. Maybe we aren’t trendy enough for the sous vide, Onsen method, but I won’t be recommending this to anyone wanting a quick, easy poached egg.
Like Gordon, Heston likes to create a few more dishes for us than necessary. In a deep pot of 80-degree water, with no vinegar or salt, he starts by placing a plate on the bottom of the pot to protect the egg. I failed at this as my pot was too small, but I can see why it is necessary, as one of my eggs slightly stuck. The egg is cracked into a fine strainer first, to remove loose whites, then carefully tipped into the pot to poach. His timing of 4 minutes was slightly under but after 5 minutes it was ready for the taste test. The yolk was runny, the white was silky and the whole egg was melt-in-your-mouth. Dan liked the shape of Heston’s egg as the yolk sat on top of the white, almost like a fried egg, so when cut open, the yolk evenly dispersed over his croissant. It’s the little things in life.
Heston’s poached egg method was the winner in the taste category. The silky white and runny yolk saw Dan licking his plate, ensuring that he got every last morsel. Gordon’s approach would be the one I recommend to a friend. There are no temperature probes involved, it’s quick, simple and the eggs turn out beautifully shaped and soft. Ottolenghi’s technique would be great for those who aren’t confident with heat control or timing their toast and trimmings with their eggs; however, the time would need to be modified to avoid hard eggs like mine. And as for David Chang’s, maybe I needed professional sous vide equipment? But the recipe didn’t mention it, so I think this one just isn’t for me and probably not for you either!
Tips for poaching at home
-Use cold eggs so they hold their shape better
-Fresh eggs always!
-Crack the eggs into a ramekin first for a nicely shaped egg
-Use a timer so you aren’t left with hard eggs
-Use a deep pot of water
Lemon and Caper Hash Cake, Asparagus and Gordon Ramsay’s Poached Eggs
900g Agria potato, peeled
2 tbsp or 30g capers, finely chopped
2 lemons, zested
2 handfuls or 50g baby spinach, roughly chopped
80g Parmesan, grated
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 bunches asparagus
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Chop your potatoes into even sized chunks, then place in a pot of cold water with a generous sprinkle of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer until the potato is soft enough to mash (don’t overcook or your hash will be watery!).
Thoroughly drain the potato, tip into a bowl, then roughly mash so it still has a bit of texture to it. Stir in the capers, lemon zest, spinach, Parmesan, mustard and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.
Shape the hash into 6, 3cm thick patties (or press them into a ring cutter) and set aside in the fridge. This can be done the night before so they set before cooking but is not essential.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. For the eggs, fill a deep pot with water, add 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, then bring it to a boil.
Blanch or roast the asparagus until just tender and set aside.
Place a non-stick fry pan on a high heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil.
Pan fry the hash cakes until golden, about 2–3 minutes each side. Transfer to a tray and heat through in the oven for about 15 minutes or until piping hot.
Stir the poaching water with a whisk until swirling. Crack eggs into individual ramekins. Lower each bowl and gently drop eggs into water. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Cook eggs for 3 minutes, then check. If the whites are firm to touch, remove from the water with a slotted spoon. If they wobble, return to water for another 10 seconds. Remove eggs to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess moisture. You may need to cook the eggs in batches.
To assemble, place the hash cake on a plate, arrange asparagus on the hash, then nestle the poached egg on top. Serve with a wedge of lemon.