To make perfect poached eggs, crack a chilled egg into a small bowl. Bring a deep pot of water (or milk, wine, butter, stock, tomato sauce, sweet syrup or other flavorful poaching liquid) to a simmer. Swirl the water in a circle with a wooden spoon, then tip the egg out of the bowl into the center of the swirling water. Cover, turn off the heat, and remove the egg with a large slotted spoon at the time specified below for soft- or hard-poached eggs.
Poached Quail Eggs: 1 minutes (soft); 2 to 3 minutes (hard)
Poached Chicken Eggs: 2 minutes (soft); 5 minutes (hard)
Poached Duck Eggs: 3 minutes (soft); 7 minutes (hard)
Make-ahead Tip: Mark Newsome, head chef and co-owner of the Joshua Wilton House in Harrisonburg, Va., gave us this restaurant tip. "We poach eggs the night before if we have large breakfast parties the next day. When the yolks are starting to set, but still soft, we pull them and submerge them in ice water to stop the cooking, and store them in the refrigerator overnight. We reheat them the next day in hot water, which makes the yolks warm and runny."
Note: Some people add salt and vinegar to the poaching liquid to keep the egg white firm, but in his esteemed book On Food and Cooking, food scientist Harold McGee recommends skipping those additions if you want a more delicately textured egg. He says not to worry about the especially loose part of the egg white that will detach in the water. Or you can let the loosest part of the egg white separate away from the rest of the egg in your hand before adding it to the water.