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How to Poach Eggs in Their Shells

OnsenTamago1

A few days ago, we had some friends over for brunch and I decided to serve poached eggs on rice. “Is this going to be raw?” they asked in surprise, as I blithely started to crack eggs over the cooked rice in their bowls.

Fortunately, the eggs were actually poached but it made me realize that this method of poaching eggs in their shells is quite unexpected and delightful to many people. It’s also incredibly convenient, since you can make the eggs ahead of time and store them in their shells in the fridge.

In Malaysia, a favourite breakfast item is a soft-boiled egg served in a bowl with soy sauce and white pepper. Thick Hainanese toast, grilled over charcoal and lavishly smeared with butter and kaya, a caramelized custard spread, is the traditional coffee shop accompaniment together with piping hot coffee (or more scandalously, the subversive drink called chum, which is coffee and tea mixed together with condensed milk).

The eggs are soft set and I’ve adapted a way to cook them from traditional Japanese onsen tamago, where they are held at a low temperature so that the yolks and whites are just cooked. Egg whites and yolks cook at different temperatures, so the textures will be slightly different – the white will be very soft while the yolk will be set like a jelly. I heard that the local kopi tiams (coffee shops) also cook their eggs sous-vide style nowadays in large batches, although theirs seem a bit runnier. I prefer my eggs a little firmer but still tender, and it’s a great party trick to crack open an eggshell and slip out a perfectly poached egg!

These are delicious with a dash of soy sauce and freshly ground pepper, or wherever you need a poached egg. Best of all, they can be kept in the fridge and reheated in their shells in a bowl of warm water whenever you need them.

Poached Eggs in Their Shells (onsen tamago)

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 quart water to be boiled
  • 1 cup of cold tap water
  • A small pot deep enough to cover the eggs in water

    PoachedEggs

    Pot size is important! A 1.5 qt pot like this is good. Don’t forget to put the lid on.

  1. Bring the eggs to room temperature by letting them sit out on the kitchen counter for a few hours. If I’m making this in the morning, I’ll just leave them out overnight.
  2. Put 1 quart (4 cups) of water into a small pot and bring to a boil. When it comes to a full boil, turn OFF the heat and stir in 1 cup of cold tap water.
  3. Add the eggs – I like to use a pasta scoop to add them gently – and quickly cover the pot with a lid.
  4. Let the eggs sit in the covered pot for about 15 minutes with the heat OFF. If your ambient room temperature is very cold or warm, adjust the cooking time accordingly by a few minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, take out an egg and crack it into a bowl. A perfectly poached egg should slip out. Enjoy plain, serve on top of a bowl of hot rice, or any other way you like! This recipe is easily doubled as long as you have a pot that’s deep enough to completely cover the eggs in water. If your pot is too big/has too much surface area, too much residual heat will be lost and the eggs won’t cook as well.

There are lots of other ways to cook onsen tamago, most of which involve fiddling around with thermometers in an attempt to keep the water at 140 F for 45 minutes (David Chang’s Momofuku recipe), but my mum has been making soft eggs like this for years without measuring anything, and it’s a lot easier.

I shared this recipe in an upcoming fundraiser cookbook for the Friends of the Otis Library, Norwich CT. They will have lots of  recipes from other authors as well, and it’s a great way to support a library!

If you've always wanted to wrap eggs in rice straw, this is the book for you!

If you’ve always wanted to wrap eggs in rice straw, this is the book for you!

Book Suggestion:

  • How to Wrap 5 More Eggs – I received this book as a child and it consists of examples of traditional Japanese packaging. It sounds bizarre, but it’s actually a very beautiful book that showcases wrapping styles that are now almost extinct. A great coffee table book.

Food Suggestion:

  • Dress up your soft poached egg by making a fast version of Eggs Benedict – try serving it on a piece of buttered toast, with a slice of smoked salmon and a drizzle of Kewpie mayonnaise with lemon juice. If you have wafer thin sliced onions and a sprig of dill, it will be even better!

What’s your favourite way to eat poached eggs?

If you enjoyed this post, please follow my blog, FB, or Twitter 🙂

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is magical! Thanks for sharing. I love poached eggs but can never quite get them right.

    May 8, 2014
    • Hooray! I hope it works for you 🙂 The key is to make sure that the eggs are at room temperature (may take a couple of hours) and that your pot isn’t too big. Good luck!

      May 11, 2014
      • Thank you! Your blog is lovely, by the way, just like your novel. Simutaneous eating and reading really resonates with me. 🙂

        May 12, 2014
  2. Wow this technique for poaching eggs sounds great! Even though I know how to poach eggs the old fashioned way this is going to be the way I do it from now on. It’s great that I can poach them and store them in the fridge for my kids to eat later! Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m also going to buy that coffee table book.

    My favorite thing in the world to do is reading and eating too. Growing up I dreaded the thought of the local librarian ladies finding out……

    May 20, 2014
    • I can tell I’m really going to enjoy your blog. Recipes and snacks with recommendations on novels to read them with! So so excited about this. I thought I was the only person who admitted to doing this.
      I just finished reading your novel too which is how I found your blog. Loved it 😁😄

      May 20, 2014
      • Thank you so much! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the book, as well as this blog. Eating and reading together is my secret vice… I even use my old metal school book stand to prop up my book while I’m having a snack 😉

        May 26, 2014
  3. Marian #

    Wow! I’ve never heard of this- and will be trying it soon. I get eggs from a local farm and keep them on the counter at room temp…it’ll be interesting to see if they work as well. I’m psyched– I love poached eggs but also have a bit of trouble getting them ‘just right’…. And the idea of serving them over hot rice with soy sauce and pepper…mmmmm….

    June 9, 2014
    • Hi Marian,

      Farm fresh eggs sound delicious! Let us know how it goes for you 🙂

      June 13, 2014
  4. 🙂 Oh yum. I’m suddenly hankering for half-boiled eggs with black sauce and pepper and a side of kaya toast from one’s local kopitiam…. mmm…….

    June 12, 2014
    • Ha ha! Me too… Fortunately I happen to be traveling in Singapore right now and that’s what I’ve been eating almost every day! The weather here is so much hotter that I think the eggs would poach in less time. 😉

      June 13, 2014
  5. My mouth is drooling at the thought of eating these, but I can hardly count the ways I would be able to do it wrongly and make a hideous mess!
    Is this a standard way of cooking eggs in Malaysia? I have the almost unbelievable experience of having a Malaysian friend staying (oops, just mistyped that as sataying!!) in my tiny Sicilian villlage for the summer. It’s so exciting having a foreigner here I keep hopping up and down! So I might ask her to do these for me! 😉

    July 19, 2015
    • I hope you had a lovely time with your friend and did lots of “sataying” while she was there (mmm… satay…)! I don’t know whether this is a standard way of doing eggs, but it’s probably quite common in Malaysia. Let me know whether it worked for you! 😉

      October 27, 2015
  6. Charlotte #

    Awful recipe doesn’t deliver what it promises. I now have 2 HARDBOILED EGGS

    August 12, 2016
  7. Mark #

    I agree with previous post, followed instructions exactly – left with hard boiled eggs
    The instructions are not correct.

    November 11, 2016
    • Hi Mark,

      Oh dear! I’m so sorry it didn’t work for you. I think ambient room temp makes a difference. Just poached eggs again with this method and it worked for me at the following temperatures: Room temp 67 F, 4 cups of water brought to a boil, then added 1 cup of cold water. 4 room temperature eggs added. At this point, the stirred water temp with the eggs in it was 170 F. Turned off heat, put a lid on it and moved it off heat. After 15 minutes (set a timer), water temp was now 148 F. Remove eggs from water and crack open – they should be soft, wobbly, and poached. I did have a friend in a colder climate try this and she said she needed almost 20 minutes to get them to set, so I’ve put the timing range from 15-20 minutes, depending on how cold your house and the eggs are. Thanks for trying it out, and good luck 🙂

      December 3, 2016
  8. Sue Yee #

    I just tried this and it worked perfectly! I think if you don’t add the cold water, the eggs will hard boil in 15 minutes. They were delicious. Had them in some leftover beef noodle soup.

    December 25, 2016
    • Hooray! I’m so glad it worked out for you 😉

      December 25, 2016
  9. Caroline #

    It worked! It took me two years from when I first read the post to try it but finally did. We cracked them over hot rice with chopped scallions, soy sauce and sesame oil. My son and I loved it.
    I might do a minute less next time since we like them runny. 😊👍🏽

    January 16, 2017
    • That sounds delicious!! I’m very happy to hear that you both enjoyed it 🙂

      January 16, 2017
  10. Antonija #

    This recipe is easy and yummy! I love the idea to pre-make the eggs in the morning and keep them in their shell until lunch. Egg shell – “The natural storage container”! No need to wash extra container afterwards and it keeps the egg perfectly moist until I am ready to eat it. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

    January 20, 2017
    • Thank you so much! Yes, keeping them in their shells till serving is a nice perk 🙂

      January 20, 2017

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