over easy

Mastering the Ultimate Culinary Thirst Trap

Idk thought I looked cute, might delete later. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.

As far as food pics go, the overhead shot of a gooey, yolky poached egg perched atop an avocado toast is the equivalent of a shirtless selfie in a grimy bathroom. It’s posing wide-kneed in your lingerie on the floor of your Calabasas closet, or directing your “come-hither,” slack-jawed gaze straight into the camera. It’s a picture that appeals to people’s most primal instincts (horniness, hunger) in exchange for comments like “omg *heart eyes emoji*” It’s a thirst trap, and it freakin’ works!

I first got into poached eggs in college. My parents had acquired a cheap microwave egg poacher, and when I came home one summer, my mother was a woman transformed, topping every salad and slice of toast with soft, nuked eggs. Being a devotee of eggs in all their many wondrous forms, I was delighted with this culinary development, and promptly began consuming half a dozen eggs a day. But by the time I graduated, the poacher had gotten broken and/or lost, and for some reason, we never got around to buying a new one. Poached eggs fell out of my life just as easily as they’d fallen into it.

They did not, however, fall out of my news feeds — where shots of bright-orange yolk cascading over greens made otherwise unremarkable food pictures seem wonderfully sumptuous. (It is worth noting that for a poached egg to look appealing it must be cut – intact poached eggs, especially presented in pairs, look like testes.) Just as with the scantily-clad selfie, or the not-so-subtle cleavage crop, posting a poached pic tells everyone you’re feeling thirsty. But I don’t care. I am a woman parched for attention, for social-media approval, and also, eggs.

Mastering the perfect poached egg, I’d long been told, is a delicate art. When she was using the microwave poacher, my mother said that she was never able to get poached eggs “quite right” in a pot. A former roommate of mine, a gifted cook, once embarked on a multi-week-long journey to perfect the various preparations of eggs, and claimed she was most nervous about the poaching portion because she “just couldn’t get it.” And in this clip from MasterChef Junior, restaurateur Joe Bastianich says he finds poaching eggs to be “very, very difficult,” and Gordon Ramsay warns that it takes “a lot of practice.”

I had one week in which to cram “a lot of practice,” so I tried various techniques, to mixed results. Nearly all the poached-egg recipes suggest putting a few drops of distilled white vinegar in the water to help keep the egg white intact, then swirling the water into a vortex before dropping the egg into it. Many also say that it’s necessary to have “very fresh” eggs, but, like selecting sushi and toothpaste, I bought whatever was on hand at the store up the street from my apartment and hoped for the best.

The first method I attempted is from the BBC, which claimed it could help me achieve a “restaurant-standard look.” The guide recommends poaching eggs in a “pan” which, I interpreted as “skillet pan.” It will probably come as no surprise to you that 1) I was wrong (“pan” meant “saucepan”) and that 2) I was not successful. My yolks never got submerged enough for the egg white to form completely around them, and when I pulled them out, the eggs looked like the overhead view of a monk’s tonsure. I put them over a salad, and half-heartedly snapped a picture that I showed no one. They were not, in any way, shape, or form, thirst traps.

Over the next few days, with more appropriate tools (a saucepan), I tried slightly different techniques to see which made for the best eggs. One recipe, from Faith Durand at The Kitchn, suggested boiling the water before bringing the temperature down (she says it’s easier to control the simmer that way) and then cooking the eggs for four minutes. This worked well. My eggs were a little lumpy and stringy around the edges, but the insides were juicy and runny. I put them over a Greek salad, and posted a video of me breaking into one of the yolks on an Instagram Story. A friend from college DM’d me to say “Is this porn?” which was the kind of response I was looking for. But then someone else messaged me to say poached eggs over cucumber are “not allowed,” and my quest for the perfect poached egg soldiered on.

The vortex. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

Finally, I tried chef Thomas Keller’s recipe for “The Perfect Poach” on Bon Appetit, and as that criminal and thief Goldilocks once said, it was “just right.” Instead of adding a few drops of vinegar to the water before pouring the eggs in, Keller suggests letting them sit in half a cup of vinegar for about five minutes beforehand. Then, you bring the water to a boil “over medium heat,” vigorously whisk it to create a whirlpool, and drop in the egg. This method is slightly more involved that the others, as Keller recommends continuing to swirl the water around the egg until it reaches a boil again and then, once it does, dropping the temperature to a simmer and keeping the egg in the water for two more minutes, continuing to swirl. Sitting in the vinegar and the continued swirling kept my eggs into tighter, cleaner oval shapes.

I put my perfect little ovals on top of, what else, avocado toast, found the only source of natural light in my dingy apartment, and voilà, a thirst trap. Unfortunately, I posted it at around 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon, which is not a prime thirst hour. People are having meetings and filling out expense reports and finally getting lunch with that work acquaintance they’ve been avoiding. But the eggs were great eggs — runny and decadent, greatly elevating my past-its-prime avocado-and-spelt toast. And even on its lonesome, even if barely anyone noticed it, the photo was still an extremely horny food picture, one that asked, “You’d like this, wouldn’t you?”

My report card
Preparation: B+
Taste: A
Thirstiness: A+

My Overall Performance: A

Mastering the Ultimate Culinary Thirst Trap