Before we begin to talk about how to poach eggs, I think it is appropriate
to clear up a few myths and mysteries that surround the whole subject.
I met someone recently who said they had been to six leading kitchen shops and not one of them sold an egg poacher. My reaction was, 'What a great leap for mankind.' Egg poachers not only came out of the ark, but they never did the job anyway. What they did was to steam and toughen the eggs, not poach them – and did you ever try to clean one afterwards? The dried-on toughened egg white was always hell to remove.
Then came professional chefs, who passed their exams only if they created a strong whirlpool of simmering water using a whisk and then performed a sort of culinary cabaret act by swirling the poached egg back to its original shell shape. At home we can now relax, throw out our egg poachers and poach eggs simply and easily for four or even six people. The method below is not at all frightening or hazardous, but bear in mind that for successful poaching the eggs have to be really fresh.
You will need:
4-6 large, very fresh eggs (under four days old)
A suitably sized frying pan (according to the number of eggs)
Boiling water from the kettle
A draining spoon and a folded wodge of kitchen paper
Place the frying pan over a gentle heat and add enough boiling water from the kettle to fill it to 1 inch (2.5cm). Keep the heat gentle, and very quickly you will see the merest trace of tiny bubbles beginning to form over the base of the pan.
Now carefully break the eggs, one at a time, into the water and let them barely simmer, without covering, for just 1 minute. A timer is essential here because you cannot guess how long one minute is.
After that, remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs sit calmly and happily in the hot water, this time setting the timer for 10 minutes. This timing will give perfect results for a beautifully translucent, perfectly set white and a soft, creamy yolk.
Now remove each egg by lifting it out of the water with the draining spoon and then letting the spoon rest for a few seconds on the kitchen paper, which will absorb the excess water. As you remove the eggs, serve them straight away.
There are now dozens of ways that you can use your new-found skills in egg poaching. For someone on a strict budget (or not), baked beans on toast topped with a poached egg (or two) is one of the world's cheapest, but greatest nutritional combinations. If you're not on a budget, wholefood shops sell baked beans that taste almost home-made, in a sauce that does not contain any sugar. More expensive but very good.
Another fast but comforting supper dish is to poach smoked haddock in a frying pan of water. Drain well and keep it warm while you slip a couple of eggs into the same water to poach. Serve the haddock with the eggs on top and buttered chunks of brown Irish soda bread.
The recipes featured in this article are taken from Delia's Complete How to Cook (BBC Books, £30). For further recipes, please visit deliaonline.com
© Delia Smith 2009