And how to fix it
Poached eggs are hard. Trust me, I get it. In my culinary program, duck day was no problem. Learning how to make a perfectly rolled French omelet took me many, many tries. And the poached eggs? There were many eggy casualties before I finally got it down. But I learned many crucial things about poaching along the way, and I am here to pass them on to you.
Don't feel bad about your poached eggs not looking as neat and gorgeous as they do at brunch in a restaurant. Restaurants have a couple of big advantages. First, obviously, many skilled professionals. Second, though, are the circulators, which allow you to poach a heck of a lot of eggs perfectly with very little effort. Do you need a circulator at home to make poached eggs? Heck no. You can make beautiful poached eggs at home, too. Here's how.
When you crack a raw egg onto a plate, you can see how old or fresh the egg is by how compact the egg white is. Fresher eggs remain pretty tight and compact, while older eggs will spread. But there's another thing you might not know to look for: eggs actually have two whites, an inner white and an outer white. You can see them if you look. There will basically be two concentric rings around the yolk. For at-home purposes, it doesn't matter all that much, except to know that in restuarants, chefs often get rid of that outer white for appearance. You can do this a couple of ways. One chef at school apparently breaks eggs into a sieve to rid himself of the white. But look, you don't need to do that to get a beautiful egg white. You just need to remember that it's there and remove it later.
What that means, practically, is that first you poach your eggs in 185-degree water with a lot of vinegar in it—the acid helps the white and yolk stay together—and then you trim the outer white off the egg using a paring knife or kitchen shears. The stringy, jellyfish-y bits on the outside just get cut off, giving you a perfect, compact poached egg. Using fresher eggs also helps a lot with poaching. Older eggs are easier to separate, which means that you might have one yolk floating around separate from the whites. It's a look, for sure, but maybe not what you're hoping for.
Remember that in restaurants they poach eggs way in advance and then just gently rewarm them in hot water before they're served. That allows the chefs to trim them, wash the vinegar off, and then rewarm them. You can do that too. Just be careful not to puncture that precious runny yolk, but as long as you're gentle, it's no problem. Voila—restaurant-looking poached eggs, minus the restaurant.