to swirl or not to swirl

Along with roast chicken and a hearty ragu, a poached egg is one of the those things any aspiring cook should know how to make. It’s versatile, quick, nutritious, delicious, equally satisfying for a crowd or for one, and a great way to make a meal out of almost anything (and nothing).

I must admit that I did not learn how to poach an egg until recently, when I decided once and for all to put a stop to this nonsense. I don’t know why my poached egg trials in the past had failed so miserably, but a few youtube videos and consecutive practice runs later, I was golden. Heat some water until small bubbles form on the bottom of the pan, toss in a capful of vinegar and a pinch of salt if you wish, carefully drop in the egg, pull it out ~3 minutes later, shock and hold it in ice water if saving for later or dry it on a paper towel before it graces your plate of whatever it is that will instantly become a gazillion times more sexy topped with those dainty whites and irresistible egg yolk.

One small trick involves swirling the water before dropping the egg in, so as to create a vortex which reportedly encourages the egg whites to wrap around the yolk during the initial critical period in which the shape of the poached egg is established (instead of disintegrating into smithereens).

I was curious whether this technique really made poaching more effective, so naturally, I performed a side-by-side analysis. Here are the results:

Can you guess which egg was poached in water that was initially swirled?

Here’s another take:

In both cases, the egg on the left was cooked in stagnant water. Interestingly, this egg appears bigger, especially in the first picture. A closer look shows, however, that this egg is actually just slightly flatter than the other. While it looks larger in volume on the plate, it actually lost more of its whites to the poaching liquid than did the egg cooked in swirled water. Not only did the latter egg lose less of its dress, it gently curled into what I think is a quite attractive teardrop. Though, I can see why some people, especially in restaurant kitchens, might prefer the first egg for its (deceptive) largess and the fact that it requires slightly less work. But to me, one of the precious things about poached eggs is that they do sort of look like a poche, a little pocket or “pouch.”

Regardless, what’s most important is that the egg is not overcooked, which means taking it out when the whites have just set and the middle still jiggles. When eating, I encourage you to savor two particular things: 1) the anticipation created by the way the egg whites are just translucent enough to hint at the treasure within, and 2) the prodded, then gently punctured yolk as it oozes out and enriches its surroundings.


One thought on “to swirl or not to swirl

  1. I only learned how to poach an egg maybe two years ago (when the Shu wanted some in Japan). I too went through the swirl/not-to swirl debate. I do it however I feel that morning when I make them. You know…spice it up. 🙂 It made my day to see you doing this.

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