After last night, this was bound to happen. We spent the evening with friends and at one point got to discussing how best to poach an egg. I advocated cracking the egg into a pan of swirling hot water and questioned the need to use vinegar, despite the fact that I have never actually poached an egg.

So it was bound to happen. This morning, as I soothed my hangover with strong coffee and numerous cigarettes, the husband stuck his head around the door and said, “Umm, how do you poach an egg again?”. He’s never poached one either but he doesn’t know we have this in common.

I peered grumpily from behind my newspaper, hoping my pursed lips and furrowed brow might make him go away. Not a hope. I rustled the paper and sighed deeply. He was still there. “Boil some water and stir it so it swirls around,” I said. “Then crack in an egg, put on some toast and once the toast is done, the egg will be poached.” I’d picked up the toast hint from one of the lads last night. “Go on, you’ll be grand.”

He stayed put, leaning on the doorframe and looking quizzical. “Boil the water and swirl it,” he said. “Swirl it,” I confirmed, before retreating behind the paper. He disappeared into the kitchen, meaning my lack of poaching nous could remain a secret.

Not for long. Three minutes later, his expectant face appeared again. “The water’s boiling. Do you want to come and have a look?” I didn’t want to but I knew I had to.

The water was indeed boiling. Trying to look confident, I took a small wooden spoon and stirred. We both peered into the saucepan. We had swirly, boiling water. I started to relax a little and splashed a teaspoon of vinegar in to help things along. I grabbed an egg, cracked it off the rim of the pan and dropped the contents into the swirly, boiling vortex.

Within seconds, it was evident that the egg was not poaching in any traditional sense, as it spun like a ragged nebula in the boiling water. I took the pan off the heat and drained the water. The egg slumped in forlorn ribbons in a puddle at the bottom of the saucepan, like a tattered flag or the half-developed embryo of some ocean-dwelling creature. The husband looked at me, disappointed and questioning.

So I did what I should have done in the first place and took Delia off the shelf. Within seven minutes, the husband was triumphantly couch-bound, with a plate of burned toast, overly crispy bacon and one perfectly poached egg. I went back to my cold coffee and had another cigarette.

Delia’s instructions on how to poach an egg

“The most important ingredient is really fresh eggs. Start with a small frying-pan filled to a depth of approximately 1.5 inches (4 cm) barely simmering water. No salt, no vinegar. Keep the heat low enough for there to be just the merest trace of tiny simmering bubbles on the base of the pan, and no more.

“Break each egg gently into the water (breaking the eggs into a cup first is all right but unnecessary, I think), and don’t attempt to poach more than two at a time unless you’re a really experience hand. Three minutes is just right for size 2 eggs but you can vary this fractionally, according to taste.” (Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course, p24)

She goes on, advising you to baste the eggs, but as our egg was completely submerged, that seemed pointless. Our egg took longer than three minutes but you can pretty much tell by looking at it when it’s done. Delia also advises removing your poached egg with a slotted spoon and allowing it to drain for a few seconds on kitchen paper, which is certainly sensible but probably doesn’t matter too much.


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