Guy Browning: How to ... poach an egg

A plastic egg poacher is like a Wonderbra for poached eggs. They make your eggs look firmer, rounder and slightly more tasty. They also keep your yolks nice and central. But it's always a bit of a disappointment when you finally pop them out and they're not your own work.

A properly cooked poached egg has to be really, really fresh and free-range. Barn eggs are also acceptable or, if you're really choosy, barn conversion eggs, which are eggs laid in barns with original exposed beams. Free-range is a relative concept: you'll know chickens are really free-range when you find one in the lift at work.

When you put them in the pan, remember that eggs are no different from people: drop them in hot water and they generally go to pieces. To prevent this, slip the egg out of a small cup and then keep the cup over the top like a little hood. That's like taking a student to college and then locking them in their room. Technically they've left home, but they can't go anywhere.

Another method of keeping the egg together is to create a vortex in the water. Be careful that you don't accidentally get a Matrix, because that's a Keanu Reeves and your egg will end up in six different dimensions. The vortex, like a black hole, sucks everything towards it. Again, it's like dropping off a student at college but leaving a PlayStation in their room: they could go out, but they don't.

Opening the poacher to check whether the egg is ready doesn't work. An egg in a poacher is like a subatomic particle - its nature is conditioned by the observer. If you lift the lid, it will be runny and transparent, but if you don't, it will be rock hard and rubbery.

Leave the egg to poach for precisely five minutes but be careful with egg timers because they are not terribly accurate. If Christopher Columbus had used an egg timer for navigation, he would have discovered Guernsey. If you don't like the loud ticking and irritating ringing, you can get a classic hourglass egg timer. It takes exactly five minutes for the sand to trickle from one end to the other, and another three hours 15 minutes before you remember to look at it.

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