The Poached Egg Code + Recipe

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By: Stephanie Jean

Poaching an egg is one of those prestigious culinary skills that we do not believe we could ever accomplish. It can be an intimidating technique that involves a great deal of food science and special attention. These food science tricks will help you to overcome your fear of poaching eggs and lead you to believe that you will be good enough to enroll in culinary school! First and foremost, start with a fresh egg. As the egg ages, water from the white transfers into the yolk, which will weaken the yolk membrane and increase the likelihood of the yolk to break2. The chalazae is the white chord that anchors the egg in place, and this will weaken as the egg ages2. Also, the albumen (the clear gel-like portion), will become more thin, and this will spread out more quickly once in the water2. Secondly, acid and salt should be added to the poaching water to tenderize the egg1. The acid and salt help to bring the protein molecules together quickly, and prevents them from getting too close to each other1. This technique will help the eggs to coagulate at a lower temperature while still remaining tender1.

These major food science techniques should give you a perfect poached egg that is great to top on avocado toast, soups, salads, or to eat on its own! Practice makes perfect, so don’t get defeated if the first one does not come out as well. Eventually, your poaching skills will surface and you will have added another food technique to your skillset!


This is a detailed recipe with step by step instructions that will give you a perfect poached egg:

Makes 1 to 2 servings

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 2 fresh raw eggs
  1. Pour 1 quart of water into a saucepan that holds about 1.5 quarts. Add the vinegar and salt and heat the water to 205 to 208 degrees. (If you don’t have a thermometer, bring the water just to a boil and then turn the heat down so that the bubbling stops. If the water is boiling when the eggs go in, the egg whites will tend to fly apart.)
  2. When the water is hot, tip the eggs, one at a time, into the pan. This works best if you place the lip of the cup right at the surface of the water and tip it quickly so the egg goes in all at once. Be bold: If you hesitate and pour in the egg too slowly, you risk the white separating from the yolk.
  3. The eggs will sit at the bottom of the pan for a minute or so, then start to bob toward the surface. For barely set whites and runny yolks, cook the eggs about 3 1/2 minutes, depending on the temperature of the egg. If they’re at room temperature, then 3 minutes may be enough time. Check the first egg at 3 minutes. If the white around the yolk still looks translucent, give it an additional 30 seconds. If you like your eggs more done, cook for 4 to 4 1/2 minutes. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and, if desired, drain very briefly on a paper towel. (If the egg sits on the paper towel more than a couple of seconds, it may stick.)

(Recipe provided by Zimmerman JA from NPR2)


  1. Ross J, Shank J. The Science and Fundamentals of Food Preparation. Minneapolis, MN: bluedoor; 2015.
  2. Zimmerman JA. Cracking The Poached Egg Code. NPR. Published November 30, 2011. Accessed March 14, 2017.

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