An Eggsperiment

My attempt to make the perfect soft-boiled egg, the ensuing failure, and the poached egg redemption.


An Eggsperiment

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I’m frequently tempted to start doing videos on Macheesmo.

If I would’ve done a video on this post, it would’ve been called The Cursing Chef.

It wouldn’t have been appropriate for children.

Over the last few weeks, I heard from a few different sources that there is a new way to cook eggs – a way that produces perfect eggs every single time.  This was very intriguing to me so I thought I would give it a shot.

I tried it.  I failed.  I cursed and cried.  Then I made it right.

This post is that story.

The New Method

Last week, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts (The Splendid Table) and the host interviewed a chef who said he has perfected the egg.  He even had a nifty chart to show off his tests.

Here was the basics of his method:

1) Put eggs in an immersion circulator at a very specific temperature depending on what sort of egg you want.  Based on his chart and the interview, the perfect soft-boiled egg would be at a 63 degree Celsius temperature, or roughly 145.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

2) Cook the eggs at that temperature for one hour.

3) Eat them.

Testing vehicles.

I (and most home cooks) probably do not have access to a $400-$500 immersion circulator that can hold water at a specific temperature to a tenth of a degree accuracy.

So the host of The Splendid Table speculated,  and I was thinking the same thing, that you could probably reproduce the results using a huge pot of water and a really good thermometer.  So I figured I would give it a shot.

I set up my largest stockpot filled with two gallons of water and set in six eggs.  I set the pot over high heat to start heating up.  When the temperature hit 146 degrees, I started the timer for one hour.

My thermometer also has an alarm which I used.  Basically, I would vary the alarm to be either 145 or 147, and either have the heat OFF or on very LOW on the pot.

Doing this, I kept the temperature of the water in the pot between a two degree range (145-147) for one hour.

It was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it.

I had very high hopes for this method.

After all, if it worked, you could cook dozens of eggs at the same time (for a party or something) and they would all be perfect and done at the same time.

With expectations flying in the Stratosphere, I cracked into my first egg.

The moment of truth!

The next ten minutes or so involved lots of cursing and flipping off inanimate things.

In every case, the yolks were too solid for my liking and the egg whites were too liquid.  They weren’t set at all.  None of the six eggs turned out like I was hoping.

So what went wrong?

Here are the only three scenarios:

1) The method doesn’t work.  I don’t believe this is true.  Dave Arnold, the guy created the method, is a great chef and I think it probably works as advertised.

2) Eggs are finicky.  A two degree temperature range is too much variation to get a good product.  If this is true you really do need to buy an expensive piece of equipment if you want to do this.

3) It did work. There is a note on the chart for the egg picture right before the one I was shooting for that mentions that you might need to dunk the eggs in simmering water to set the whites.  My problem with this is A) it’s an extra step that I didn’t want to do and B) it would make the yolks more firm and they were already too firm in my opinion.

I think scenario two is the most realistic conclusion.

The Fix

Here’s the thing about this long-cooking method:  I hate it.

Even if it worked, I’m not sure that it’s worth it.  Why?  Because I can perfectly poach an egg 23 times out of 24 in about three minutes.  I can do it without any fancy equipment.  It always works and always produces tasty, perfect eggs.

I will go so far as to say that there is no reason why any home chef should try the immersion method to simply cook a soft-boiled egg.  It will suck two hours of your life and you’ll probably mess it up.

How to Poach an Egg

After all of this, I thought it would be worth it to provide a quick walkthrough on how I poach eggs.

First, I get a medium-large pot of water and add in about 1/2 cup of vinegar for every gallon of water.  You can use just normal distilled vinegar or white wine vinegar.  The vinegar will help the egg whites coagulate so they don’t break up in the water.

Any vinegar will do.

If you are cocky, you can crack the eggs directly into the simmering (not boiling) water.  I like to pre-crack my eggs into bowls just to make sure there are no shells and also to make sure the yolks aren’t broken.

I like to pre-crack my eggs.

Again, your water shouldn’t be boiling or it will break up the eggs.  Just a light simmer will do the trick.

Then give the water a quick stir to create a small whirlpool.  This will help the egg stick together.

A little stir helps.

Then just carefully slide the egg into the pot.

If it’s your first time poaching, start with one or two eggs.  Once you get the hang of it, you can do more.  I’ve successfully poached six at a time in the pot in these pictures.

egg in

Set a timer for 2.5 minutes.  That’s all it takes for a poached egg with a runny yolk.  If you want a slightly firmer yolk, add on another 30 seconds or a minute.

After the cooking time, use a slotted spoon to carefully scoop one of the eggs out of the water.

You can poke it gently to make sure it is done.  You’ll be able to easily feel if the whites are set and the yolk is still soft.  If the whites are still liquidy, then it needs another few seconds cooking.

The poke test.

When the eggs are done, set them on a paper towel to drain off some of the water!

I cut into one of my three just so you could see the perfectness of this.

I did that on purpose.

Here’s the same plate of food as is the first shot with my poached eggs.

These were perfect and took me ten minutes to make – start to finish.

Why would you do it any other way?!

I’m all for food experiments and coming up with new ways to do things, but this new method of cooking eggs isn’t right for 99% of home cooks.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  And the poached egg definitely ain’t broke!

Learn how to poach eggs and you’ll be all set.

24 Responses to “An Eggsperiment” Leave a comment

  1. That’s really pretty funny. You’d almost think it was from Cook’s Illustrated, since they can turn a good simple three step recipe into a two hour and 10 step recipe. Their recipes sometime turn me into The Cursing Chef.

    I wonder if you could make soft boiled eggs by placing the eggs in cold water bringing it to a boil, turning it off and then timing depending on the firmness required. Like making hard boiled, but not so firm? Instead of shocking, just pop into a bowl of cool water just so they can be handled to peel? Hmmmm.

    Poached may be the way to go, though. Wish I didn’t have to work today or I’d try it.

    1. I’ve tried the soft boiled method and never was really able to get the timing down right on that either… I think I’m done trying to make any sort of egg other than poached for stuff like this. ;)

    2. I soft-boil my eggs by placing them in cold water (I pierce the ends first), turn the stove on high and when the water boils turn the stove down to just keep the water at a low boil. I take the pot pot off at 3:30-3:45, drain the hot water, and shock them with cold water so they peal more easily.

  2. I’m so with you: The long-cook method sounds to me like the poached-egg equivalent of just trying to build a better mousetrap… but one that just sort of wounds the mouse and makes it irritated enough to come back and keep eating through your bags of potato chips or whatever, just to piss you off.

    Hear, hear! Poaching eggs the “ol’ fashioned” way isn’t so hard!

    1. That is so true. I really don’t understand why people are trying improve on something that is pretty easy and always turns out great.

  3. Your poached eggs always look so perfect! I obviously need to practice more. I have to cook them one at a time for them to turn out okay.

  4. You’re right, Nick. Don’t try to fix what ain’t broke. Your poached eggs definitely ain’t broke. Besides, who would want to wait an hour for a poached egg? My hungry stomach certainly wouldn’t want to! Thanks for this tutorial, I am compelled to now try poaching eggs!

  5. Hey there, Nick. Thanks again for another great post. I know most people are afraid of poaching eggs. It ‘can’ be a bit tricky. I have found a way to make it a little less tricky, though.

    Instead of going totally free form in a pot of water – you can lightly coat with cooking spray a few heat proof ramekins (~3 to 4oz each) and set 3 or 4 in a pot and fill the pot (and ramekins) with just enough water to cover the top of the ramekins. Then bring your water (salted & acidified, of course) to a simmer. Crack an egg over the opening of each ramekin (or drop in the pre-cracked eggs you have in bowls, hehe) and let sit for the 2+ minutes.

    Gently dive in with a slotted spoon and lift them out after the 2 1/2 minutes or so. Shock in ice water for storage or drain and serve immediately.

    Just food for thought, so to speak. ;-)

    1. I love this idea, and I’m going to try it. I can never get the egg white strands to stay together, so this sounds like a good alternative!

  6. VERY well written, I enjoyed your post very much and I agree with you completely. I just learned a great way to BAKE eggs in the shell, but that gives a hard boiled degree of doneness.

  7. i learned how to poach eggs in high school “foods” class and since then it has been one of my favorite ways to eat eggs! i say “one of” because i pretty love eggs so much that it’s impossible to have one favorite way to eat them…

    this way of doing it just seems sooo tedious! i don’t think i’ll ever have the patience to even try it! :)

  8. I heard putting something like potato starch (anything that will thicken) in the water and then boiling them normally, the eggs come out nice too. Dunno how well it will work, but you might wanna try them.

  9. LIKE!
    The ending, not the part at the beginning where the whites are like snot and the yolks are hard.
    I am left wondering if the intrepid home cook could do the long cooking method in a very nice crockpot (they have ones now with more than just high-low-off settings)
    But, like you said, why bother?

  10. Nick, as soon as you mentioned eggsperiments, I recalled a program I watched by British chef Heston. He dedicated a whole episode to doing perfect eggs. And his method of poaching, hard boiling and scrambling are awesome. I recommend you check it out and give his versions a go.

    His opinion on poached was that vinegar isn’t necessary and neither is the whirlpool… But, anyways, check it out for yourself :)

    <3 Nancy (just scroll towards the bottom for episode 2)

  11. I’ve had good luck soft-boiling eggs by doing them differently than when I hardboil. Instead of starting with cold water, I bring the water to a boil, THEN add the eggs and lower the heat to simmer for 6 minutes, then drain and put in cold water. They’ve come out perfect. Picked that up from Around My French Table I think.

  12. Nick, I salute you for giving the fancy technique a try, but I’m glad to know that the normal technique I use works just fine :)

    1. Thanks Steph! Maybe the test kitchen cooks can find a way to do it without an immersion cooker, but for home cooks, I’m putting it clearly in the “NOT WORTH IT” category. :)

  13. Thanks for the post. I recently had the one hour poached hen’s egg at a local Chicago restaurant that is closing in August. After our meal we toured the kitchen and the chef showed us how it was done using an immersion circulator and what temperature they used (146 degrees). I loved the eggs so much that I started to do a little research to see if I could replicate it at home. I came across your post and was instantly depressed. I had the same idea about using a large pot of water at low heat and monitor with a very accurate thermometer. I stewed over it for a few days then thought about the variables to see if there was a way to overcome the issues you faced.
    My first thought was that the eggs were sitting on the bottom of the pan and were getting too much conducted heat, and my second thought was that the water needed to keep moving in order to make sure there were not variations in water temperature throughout the pot. My solution was to use a large pot, with a metal steamer basket to hold the eggs off the bottom, and a cheap aero mixer (the one my wife uses to froth her milk for her for her lattes). I let the water get to temperature and used the aero mixer for ten seconds every few minutes to make sure the temp was even throughout. After I had the water at 146 degrees (actually between 146 and 147), I inserted six eggs. I allowed the eggs about five minutes to acclimate to the water, and then started my timer. Every few minutes I turned on the aero mixer and circulated the water.
    After the hour was up I started cracking eggs. Each one came out with the whites nearly perfectly set and the yolk creamy. They were a big hit for breakfast. That being said, the work effort was far too great for the end result.

    1. Whoa! Nice work Jim. That totally makes sense. I couldn’t imagine that it was just the tiny fluctuations in temp that caused my fail.

      That said… yea… i agree… even with your method I think I’ll stick to just poaching them. :)

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