How to poach an egg: the recipes that work, every single time

Rustle up the best brunch by learning how to poach an egg. Our tips ensure perfect results every time

how to poach an egg
(Image credit: Aldi)

If you know how to poach an egg then you also know how to have a tasty and healthy breakfast on the table in less than five minutes. Yet so many of us seem confused about how to get it right with over 25,000 people a month searching how to do it on Google, and people sharing all manner of weird tips and tricks to do it.

It really isn't complicated. All you need is a pan, an egg, hot water and something to serve it with (we have some great poached egg serving suggestions for you to check out after this method). The fresher the egg the better – you won't need white wine vinegar or to whisk the boiling water round to hold the white together if you use a fresh egg.

The Realhomes.com team are true egg aficionados, or rather, egg-ficionados, – who could resist? – and our combined poached egg on toast tally for the team is likely the highest per capita in the country... So who better to walk you through poaching an egg then us? 

Follow the best recipe below and read on to see our alternative method for cooking a poached egg in a microwave.

If you do decide you want to up your egg game, check out our pick of the best egg cookers – poached, boiled and omelettes are all easy peasy with a fancy egg cooking device. For more easy egg recipes, don't miss our full guide. 

  • Find all our recipes and healthy eating suggestions on our dedicated page

How to poach an egg

Eggs benedict recipe

(Image credit: Aldi)

Serves: 1

Cooking time: up to 5 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 1–2 fresh eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Boiling water

Method:

1.  If serving with toast, pop that in the toaster now. Boil water in a kettle or in a large pan on the hob. Even if you are only cooking two eggs, we recommend using a nice big pan with lots of space and at least 5cm depth, as it is less likely to bubble over. 

2. Crack each egg into a small ramekin or mug (one egg per mug). With the water on a high simmer in the pan, gently slip each egg into the water.

3. Put your timer on for two minutes and watch that the pan doesn't foam or bubble over. After two minutes, take a slotted spoon and lift an egg out to see if it is done. The egg should be firm but give around the yolk. If you don't want a runny yolk, put it back in the pan for a further two to three minutes. 

4. Turn off the heat as soon as they eggs are done. Lift the cooked eggs from the pan one at a time and let as much water drain as possible before serving. Season with salt and pepper.

Top tips:

If your white is a bit straggly when cooked it could be that the egg is not fresh enough. It is still perfectly good to eat, but doesn't create the pleasing orb of a perfect poached egg. If you are worried your egg is not super-fresh rather than messing with vortexes to keep the white together (when you whisk it to bind it round the egg) or vinegar to pull the white around the yolk, you can try a super easy alternative. 

Simply slip the eggs into a wide-based pan of hot water, simmer for a minute, then take the eggs off the heat and leave to cook slowly for six to 10 minutes. It takes moretime, but the gentler cooking helps stop the white from spreading as much.

How to poach an egg in a microwave

This is best for doing one egg at a time as the bowl or mug you cook in needs to be in the centre of the microwave for even cooking. It is so speedy though that if you cook two, you can quickly do one at a time and still have the first one piping hot and ready to eat when the other is done.

There are various tips and methods out there but these are the things we have found to be key:

Cooking receptacle: You can buy special microwave egg poachers that you crack the egg into. These are really easy to use, but we think the best results are when the egg is cooked in water in the microwave and for this you just need a small bowl or mug. We find a bowl a bit easier to fish the egg out of at the end, especially when using a slotted spoon.

Hot water: If you cook the egg in cold water you are more likely to overcook it as the water needs to be heated too. Start with boiling hot water and then the egg is evenly cooked by both radiation from the microwave and conduction from the hot water. This helps the white set before the yolk so that the yolk remains runny. Using a no water method is common, but we find it tends to lead to a rubbery white. Hot water gives the same results as pan cooking.

Timing: Microwaves have different power levels. We always use the highest power level and find that for our 900W microwave a minute is the best length to cook for a runny yolk. Try a minute on yours, then keep adding 10 seconds and checking if it is done

Then, follow the steps below:

1. Find a large mug or a small bowl and fill with enough water to submerge the egg (a third to half a mug should do). 

2. Crack the egg into a separate mug and pierce the yolk to avoid explosions. Slide the egg into the mug of water and cover with a microwavable cover in the microwave.

3. Cook for one minute on high. Check the white is firm before serving. If there is still runny white, cook for a further 10 seconds, and 10 more until done. 

How to ensure your poached egg stays fully formed

We've covered the basics of how to poach an egg above, but if your efforts are still not perfect or simply ending in failure – by which we mean separated egg white floating throughout the pan – you need to give this simple hack a go. Not only will it help keep your poached egg fully formed, but it will also allow you to graduate from cooking one egg at a time... imagine that! 

All this simple egg poaching hack requires is a sieve. From there, the steps are pretty much the same. It may seem like a small change, but this additional step will make all the difference when it comes to the outcome of your eggs. And because it is so easy, it means you have time to have a healthy, tasty poached egg breakfast any day of the week.

This poached egg hack, which we've seen floating around on the internet rather a lot recently, requires you to begin by cracking your egg into a small sieve, resting over a clean bowl. This ensure you're only adding the tightest egg whites to the pan and will help you achieve as round a poached egg as possible.

Once you've let the looser egg white drain off, transfer your poached eggs to a small ramekin, which you should use to gently transfer your egg into the water. This process should be repeated for every egg that you plan on poaching. 

From there, add a few tablespoons of vinegar to your pan and begin stirring to create a vortex. Once you're satisfied with its speed, drop your egg directly into the middle and watch it take shape.

Cook for three minutes, before using a slotted spoon to remove your egg from the water. Dry on a paper towel before serving.

How to poach an egg: tips and tricks from Sorted

Here's how to poach an egg to perfection according to the experts at Sorted.

1. The chefs at Sorted recommend using a medium size hens' eggs for the most success. They also emphasise the importance of ensuring your eggs are fresh for the most success.

2. If you store your eggs in the fridge, they also recommend bringing them to room temperature before you begin cooking. This can be achieved by placing your eggs in a glass of warm water for a few minutes before you start cooking.

3. At Sorted, they also recommend opting for a large, deep pan with lots of water.

Top tip: If you're not confident about cracking eggs, they also recommend cracking them into a small ramekin or bowl before transferring into the pan of boiling water.

4. Gradually heat your pan until you begin to see a few bubbles beginning to break the surface of the water. Once this temperature is reached, sprinkle a little salt into the pan as this seasons the water and will help your egg stay together.

5. They advise avoiding the whirlpool technique, instead advising that the water should be on such a low heat that it barely moves. This also allows you to cook multiple eggs at the same time.

6. Allow to cook for two to three minutes, until the egg is fully formed but still has a relatively soft yolk.

7. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon.

How to poach an egg like Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver's poached egg recipe doesn't differ wildly from ours, but he does have a couple of tricks up his sleeve, as you'd expect.

1. His first invaluable tips are that you can tell whether the eggs you're using by cracking them on to a saucer first to see if the yolk stands up and if the white isn’t watery – we like to crack our eggs into a shallow bowl, too, before poaching because it's less likely you'll end up with bits of shell or broken yoke in the pan. 

2. Jamie Oliver also advises that the water is at a gentle simmer rather than boiling – which is a mistake beginners often make. And, he suggests a pinch of salt. 

3. For soft poached eggs, Jamie suggests two minutes in the pan, which matches our recipe, plus another couple of minutes if you prefer the yokes firmer. 

4. The biggest pieces of advice we took away? Don't worry too much if the edges of the whites look a little scruffy (you can trim it once it's out if you're serving to someone who minds).

5. ...and to lift your cooked egg out of the pan with a slotted spoon and to pop it briefly on to kitchen roll. No one likes soggy toast. Ta, Jamie.

How to poach an egg like Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray's tricks to achieving the ultimate poached egg involve a frying pan, or skillet. Below, we've outlined Rachael Ray's top tips from her poached egg recipe. Give them a go for superior poached eggs and a brunch that could rival the best.

Here are the top tips we took away from Rachael Ray's guide to how to poach an egg:

1. Rachael Ray advises using a frying pan, or ten inch skillet to poach an egg, as opposed to the deep saucepan we're used to attempting poached eggs in.

2. She also advises adding vinegar and salt to the pan, as opposed to creating a whirlpool which is another popular approach.

3. Rachael Ray recommends cracking your egg into a bowl, then gently transferring into the simmering water.

4. In terms of timings, Rachael Ray recommends three minutes for a runny yolk, and five minutes for something a little firmer.

Do you need vinegar to poach an egg?

The answer to this is 'no'. Vinegar is helpful for making the egg white coagulate, but simply carefully slipping the egg into barely simmering water will work just as well.

Best poached egg serving suggestions

Poached egg and tomatoes on avocado toast

(Image credit: Getty)
  • Avocado and poached egg on toast: a favourite in hip brunch joints – sourdough is preferred as the toast, but not essential. 
  • Feta and chilli flakes: add a crumble of feta and a few chilli flakes to the above – bliss.
  • Bacon and mushrooms: this is like a mini fry up but with less fat. Grill your bacon and mushrooms to cut even more fat.
  • Eggs royale: serve on an English muffin with smoked salmon and hollandaise. Swap the salmon for ham for an eggs benedict or trade in spinach for eggs florentine.

How to poach an egg like Nigella Lawson

Until this point we were pretty convinced that you needed to create a whirlpool, drain your eggs, or adopt some other form of wizardry to achieve the ideal outcome. But then we came across Nigella Lawson's approach. It's simple, yet effective. And to be honest, we'd expect nothing else from Nigella.

In fact, one of the things that drew us to Nigella Lawson's poached egg recipe is her admission that she too once feared the process of poaching an egg, which is pretty encouraging if you're an absolute novice. Here's what to do:

1. Nigella Lawson makes it clear that a fridge cold egg is a must for achieving the perfect poached egg, as this will help it hold its shape.

2. Nigella Lawson starts by cracking her egg into a cup, along with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. She then allows it to stand while a small pan of water begins to heat up.

3. Once it reaches boiling point, Nigella Lawson then turns off the heat and slowly pours the egg from the cup into the pan. During this process, you should take care not to add the watery liquid that will have collected at the bottom of the cup to enter into the pan.

4. Nigella Lawson then suggests leaving the egg to poach for four to five minutes, before removing with a slotted spoon and allowing any excess water to drain off before serving.

Check out the full recipe from Nigella Lawson

More egg recipes: