“Across the globe, despite innumerable cultural differences, we have all come to love eggs for pretty much the same reason: They are delicious,” writes Rachel Khong in the introduction to her book, All About Eggs, the latest from Lucky Peach’s inventive single-subject travel and cooking series. (Previous topics have included vegetables and tubesteaks, with barbecue on the horizon.) Are eggs the most important food on earth? Well, duh. But eggs are not simply to fry or scramble, as Khong—a contributing editor here at TASTE—tackles the subject with obsessive curiosity.
Why do we eat eggs for breakfast? What is the Roche Yolk Color Fan? What happened to Peter Carl Faberge’s 50 gold Easter eggs? How do you make a Taiwanese oyster omelet? The book has the answers, of course. But it also has a bunch of really great—actually, eggcellent—recipes folded in. One recipe that sticks out is the poached egg, which writer Tienlon Ho gleaned from a couple of amateur home cooks. —Matt Rodbard
There’s an episode of Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home where the two poach eggs in Julia’s sunny kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Julia Child is beginning to bend under her 88 years but spry as ever. Jacques Pepin, barely 65, vibrates with enthusiasm.
“I’m going to use a mechanical device, and Jack is going to use his own hands and ingenuity,” Julia declares, without a tinge of apology.
Julia pokes a pinhole in the large end of her eggs, then boils them in the shell for ten seconds. Then she brings out her gizmos, four oversize perforated spoons with perpendicular handles. She doesn’t need these to get the eggs right, of course. She has by that time hosted a dozen cooking shows and printed 40 editions of her first cookbook. Julia is trying to tell us, do whatever you need to make this work for you.
Jacques cracks his eggs and slides the contents into the simmering water with the efficiency that only people who have cracked a million eggs can have. A few seconds in, he waves a slotted spoon over a jumble of egg to get it to roll over, and it instantly reorders itself into a tidy pillow.
When Julia cooks, she is teaching confidence. When Jacques cooks, he is teaching sleight of hand. Both are key to mastering any technique.
In the end, Julia’s eggs are soft and expansive, while Jacques’s are plump with a round protrusion of yolk on top, and they admire each other’s handiwork.
“Oh, that came out beautifully, and it looks very eggy,” Julia says. After all, it doesn’t matter how you get to the finish line. As Julia was known to say, “If you’re alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?”
Jacques’s Poached Eggs
Makes 6 poached eggs
When making poached eggs, the fresher the eggs the better. The older the eggs, the more the whites will tend to spread in the water. A dash of vinegar (white vinegar preferably) is added to the water to help firm the egg white. Salt is omitted because it has the reverse effect and tends to thin down the white. Eggs can be poached several hours, even a day, ahead (as most restaurants do), eliminating any last-minute panic when you want to serve several people at once. —Jacques Pépin
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
1. Place 2½ to 3 quarts of water and the vinegar in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer: You want small bubbles just at the sides of the saucepan. Break one egg at a time on the side of the saucepan. Holding it as closely as you can to the water (to avoid splashing), open it with both thumbs and let it slide into the water. If you are afraid of burning your fingers, break the eggs into a saucer or bowl and slide them into the water. (Cracking directly into the saucepan can also lead to weird egg shapes; sometimes there’s a sticky tail of white that lingers on the shell.)
2. Go as fast as you can putting the eggs into the water so that the difference in cooking time is not too great between the first and the last egg. Keep the water at a bare simmer, or let it “shiver” as it is said in France.
3. As soon as all the eggs are in the water, drag the bottom of a large slotted spoon across the surface of the water to move the eggs about a bit and keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once some of the whites have hardened, the eggs will not stick anymore.
4. Large eggs take 3 to 4 minutes of cooking. If you like them more runny or more set, the timing should be changed accordingly. Check the eggs by lifting them, one at a time, with a slotted spoon and pressing them slightly with your fingers. The white should be set, but the yolks soft to the touch.
5. As soon as an egg is cooked, transfer it to a bowl of ice water. This stops the cooking and washes the vinegar off.
6. When the eggs are cold, lift each one from the water and trim off the hanging pieces with a knife or a pair of scissors. Place in a bowl of fresh cold water.
7. Drain well if you use them cold, or keep refrigerated in cold water. They will keep for at least a couple of days. To use hot, place in a strainer, lower into boiling water for about 1 minute, drain and serve immediately.
Julia’s Poached Eggs
Makes 4 poached eggs
In Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Julia says: “In my method, you crack the egg into an egg poacher—a perforated-metal oval egg-shaped container set in shimmering water. The egg takes on the oval poached-egg shape.” Those oval egg poachers turn out to be tricky to find these days, but as it turns out, the real trick is in the pinprick and par-boiling, which sets the whites and helps keep the egg in shape.
1. If you’re using egg poachers, set them in a large saucepan with at least 3-inch sides, and measure in enough water to cover them by ½ inch. Remove the poachers and bring the water to a boil. If not using poachers, fill the water to 2 inches high, and bring it to a boil.
2. With a pin, prick the large end of each egg—going through the shell and into the body of the egg to make a small hole (no egg should come out)—then place in a strainer and lower into the boiling water.
3. Submerge the eggs for exactly 10 seconds and lift out with a slotted spoon.
4. Now reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, just so there are the tiniest bubbles at the bottom of the pan. Set the poachers in the saucepan, if using.
5. Once the water is at a simmer, rapidly crack an egg into each of the poachers, holding it as close to the water as possible. If you aren’t using poachers, crack your eggs directly into the water (again, as close to the water as possible) at the pan’s 12 o’clock.
6. Rapidly continue with the rest of the eggs, going clockwise.
7. Poach for 4 minutes per egg. When the time is up, slip the eggs out of the poachers onto a plate or, if you are not planning to use them right away, into a bowl of ice water.
Reprinted from All About Eggs: Everything We Know About the World’s Most Important Food. Copyright © 2017 by Lucky Peach, LLC. Photographs and illustrations copyright © 2017 by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.