Poaching an egg brings out its essence in the simplest and most sumptuous way. This contemporary pairing with creamy grits—an old southern favorite spreading in popularity across the country—doubles the luscious richness. We serve the dish here with a Creole sauce on top, but even if you skip that step, you’ve got a sublime but homey start for the day.
Game plan: Many people who like poached eggs believe only a professional chef can do them correctly. Not true.
It’s no big challenge to corral an egg in water, despite what the manufacturer of egg-poaching devices would like you to believe. All you need is a broad saucepan and a slotted spoon.
Start with fresh eggs. The thicker albumen of a fresh egg clings around the yolk. Older eggs develop what experts call “angel wings,” attractive on heavenly bodies but ragged-looking on the plate.
Cook in gently simmering water, not a hard boil.
The addition of a tablespoon or so of vinegar to the cooking water helps the egg white coagulate. Forget it if the subtle flavor contribution bothers you.
Break eggs into a cup or small ramekin and use it to ease the egg into the water. Don’t drop the egg in.
After 30 seconds the white will have coagulated softly, so gently but quickly nudge the bottom of each egg to loosen any white that has stuck to the pan.
The egg industry suggests you poach eggs in simmering water for up to 5 minutes for complete safety, but that’s way too long for us. We prefer, personally, to take a tiny risk to get perfect results.
Drain the eggs well before serving them. If working with a bunch of eggs, we spoon them onto sections of paper towel as we fish them out of the water, then gently transfer them to the finished dish.
Eggs can be poached in a variety of liquids—cream, wine, stock, tomato juice, sauces—but keep in mind they will take on some of the color as well as the flavor of whatever you use. You may like the slight tan of a meat broth better than the purplish tint bequeathed by red wine.
You can flavor the eggs, albeit subtly, by seasoning the poaching liquid. For example, we like using curry powder or paste in water or chicken stock. Keep in mind that you need a comparatively large amount of spice or other flavoring because of the short cooking time and the amount of liquid used.