Perfect Poaching

Several years ago, when I was a private chef, I was asked one morning to poach eggs for breakfast. No problem, I thought. But when I dropped the first egg into the simmering water, the yolk and white spread out into an amorphous mess. Same thing on the next try. My eyes widened in panic. What was going wrong? Later, I called my friend Ted MacLeod, an expert brunch cook. "The secret to poaching eggs," Ted told me, "is in the amount of vinegar you use. The right amount coaxes them into firmness." I tried his method—a half cup of white distilled vinegar and a half teaspoon of salt in four cups of water—and, sure enough, my poached eggs came out beautifully. Months afterward, though, I ran into another problem. I was using a skillet to poach eggs and noticed that when I dropped the eggs into the water they flattened into dispiriting disks. Thinking that the outcome might have something to do with the water's depth, I switched to a tall pot, and—voila!—the eggs gracefully trailed down into the boiling water, forming themselves into appealing orbs. Still, to this day, my first few poaching attempts sometimes don't turn out right. Another friend, Ashley Berman, a recipe tester, offered consoling advice: "It's just like when you're making pancakes," she said. "The first few always flop." Now, those are words to put a perfectionist's mind at ease!

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