The best eggs for poaching are the freshest eggs you can find. If eggs are more than a week old, the whites thin out. Whites of fresh eggs will gather compactly around the yolk, making a rounder, neater shape. Use cold eggs (?) right out of the water tap.
Use room temperature eggs for the best results.
Use a pan that is at least 3 inches deep so there is enough water to cover the eggs and they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. To prevent sticking, grease the pan with a little oil before filling with water.
Photo from The American Egg Board
• Bring the poaching liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer before adding the eggs (bubbles should not break the surface). The water should not be any more vigorous than small bubbles forming on the bottom of the pan with the occasional tiny bubble bursting at the top. A stronger boil than that produces too much movement in the pot and throws the egg whites around. The barely simmering water encourages the egg to sit there quietly, without flapping around and losing shape.
Check out my article on Poaching vs. Simmering vs. Boiling.
• When you poach eggs, try adding a little vinegar and salt to the water. Vinegar helps the egg to hold its shape by causing the outer layer of the egg white to congeal faster. Without it, the eggs will become skeins of protein tangling up in the water.
(1) Break each egg onto a saucer or into small cups or bowls.
(2) Slip eggs carefully into slowly simmering water by lowering the lip of each egg cup 1/2-inch below the surface of the water. Let the eggs flow out. Don't put too many in the pot at one time. Immediately cover with a lid and turn off the heat.
• Try creating a gentle whirlpool in the simmering water and slip your egg into the middle of that. This tends to keep the white from dissipating.
• Don't disturb the egg once you have put it in the water!
(3) Set a timer for exactly 3 minutes for medium-firm yolks. Adjust the time up or down for runnier or firmer yolks. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, depending on firmness desired.
(4) Remove from water with slotted spoon. Lift each perfectly poached egg from the water with a slotted spoon, but hold it over the skillet briefly to let any water clinging to the egg drain off. Drain well before serving.
Poaching Eggs For A Crowd
To poach eggs for a crowd, cook eggs ahead of time, slightly undercooking them. Slide them into a large bowl of cold water. When ready to be served, immerse in barely simmering water for 1 to 2 minutes.
If you are making eggs only a short while ahead, slide all of them, as they are cooked, into a large bowl of hot (not boiling) water. Don't worry about them sticking together. Top with more hot water from time to time to keep them warm. The eggs will be soft, warm, and ready to eat when you are ready to serve them.