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There are thousands of recipes for eggs, and many spring to mind to include here, but since it’s the simple things I enjoy, I’m still fascinated by the challenge of poaching the perfect egg. In the end it comes down to one key factor: the freshness of the egg. You can see why by cracking a fresh egg and comparing it to one a few days older – the white will hold together better than the white in the senior egg, in which the proteins become watery and thin. The old egg won’t kill you, but when you break into boiling water it will disperse before it has time to form.
Some chefs put salt in the water, and although this doesn’t seem to affect things one way or another I can’t get my head away from the theory of adding a pinch of salt in the water and although this doesn’t seem to affect things one way or another, I can’t get my head away from the theory of adding a pinch of salt to egg whites before whipping them in order to break down the albumen in a little bit. I find that a generous glug of white wine vinegar helps keep the egg together. The other key factor after the freshness of the eggs, is the temperature of the water. My technique is to bring it to the point where small bubbles are just rising from the bottom, give it a gentle stir, tip the egg into the water from an eggcup touching the surface, then bring the temperature up until the water is gently buffeting the egg. It’s this buffeting that lifts the egg off the bottom of the pan and helps create a spherical shape: boil too hard and it can pull the egg out of shape, too low and the egg stays at the bottom and comes out flat. Once it's started to firm up, turn down the heat and let it finish cooking gently – the proteins in eggs tighten up so much that the emulsions break down and the texture suffers once they reach about 70°C.
How well done you like your eggs is up to you, but I like mine with the white just set and the yolk really runny, so when you cut it the yolk burst out and runs all over the toast, or mingles with the hollandaise, or lathers the smoked haddock. However you like it, prod it and if it responds the right way lift it out and either serve it straight away, or, if you need to finish off other elements of the breakfast you can dip it a few seconds in cold water to stop it cooking and then put it into a bowl of slightly hotter than blood heat water until you need it. This is also a good moment to discard any bits of errant or over-cooked white. Sometimes a spot of egg vanity pays off, especially if you’re cooking breakfast to impress.
Oliver Rowe is a London based chef and food writer. Food for All Seasons, published by Faber & Faber, draws on his own story as a chef, a restaurateur and a lover of food to bring seasonality to life.