soufflé, or when we want to turn a vegetable side dish into an easy main course. When we saw Susie Middleton's recipe for Brown-Butter Asparagus with Pine Nuts, we knew that it would make a fine light dinner if we topped it with a poached egg.
Poaching eggs is a simple process, but a lot of people have trouble with it. So they buy expensive, fussy egg-poaching devices, which end up steaming the eggs instead of poaching them. Also, as anyone who's ever struggled with overcooked egg proteins knows, they are a pain to clean up.
In fact, you don't need a special device. You just need a shallow pan of boiling water, a slotted spoon, some paper towels, a gentle hand, and a sharp eye.
Two Perfect Poached Eggs
1. Bring a skillet of water to a boil, then turn it down to simmer.
2. Crack your eggs and slip them into the simmering water, taking care not to break the yolks. (Some people crack their eggs onto plates and slip them into the water, but we've never needed to do this; we do, however, avoid cracking eggs on the side of the pan, as that can break the yolk.) Quickly add the second egg, so the two finish cooking at the same time.
3. Lay out some thick paper towels, grab hold of a slotted spoon, and keep an eye on your eggs. After about 90 seconds (no more than two minutes), start to examine them. Be gentle! The key to good poached eggs is not to boil them too hard or handle them too roughly. You want to make sure that the whites are completely cooked; after that, it's a matter of taste. If you like runny yolks, the eggs are ready when the whites are cooked; if you like them harder, let them go another minute or two.
4. Carefully slide the slotted spoon under the first egg and remove it to the paper towels so it can drain. Working quickly, take the other egg out of the water and let it drain too. Be careful not to break the yolks as you remove the eggs from the water.
5. Once the eggs have drained, they're ready to be transferred to your plate. Again, gentleness is critical: depending on how you are serving the eggs, it may be easier to tip them off the paper towel than to use a spoon again.
This may seem like a fussy and anxiety-provoking exercise, but after you do it a few times, you get a sense of how long to let the eggs poach and how to handle them. And if you make a few mistakes, chances are it will be no big deal—there are worse tragedies in life than a broken or overcooked yolk.