To start, fill a pot with 5 or 6 inches of water, plus a little bit of white vinegar and some salt. The deep water will allow a cracked egg to sink upon entry and then bob back to the surface without ever splatting against the hard bottom of the pot; this will enable your poached egg to take on a lovely ovoid shape not so unlike a teardrop, with the yolk in the middle.
As for the white vinegar and salt, those are added to prevent the egg white from spreading in the water. How much of them you add depends on how big your pot is, which will determine how much water is required to fill it with 5 or 6 inches of water.
Go by taste. Add, oh, what, a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to your water, stir it, and then taste it—does it taste like vinegar? No? Drizzle a tiny bit more in there, stir, and taste again. Now does it taste like vinegar? Maybe just a teeny tiny bit? OK. That’s enough. (If you go overboard, don’t be afraid to dump some of the liquid out and replace it with fresh water, tasting as you go, until it juuuuust tastes vinegary.)
As for the salt, eh, just a big pinch. Heat this pot of salty, vinegary water to a low boil.
Now, while that’s heating up, a word on eggs. The sadly inescapable truth of poached eggs is that—unlike with, say, scrambled eggs, where the difference between farm-fresh eggs and the ones that have been sitting in an egg carton in your fridge since 1993 is mitigated somewhat when you beat them, and then mitigated some more by the cheese you rightly cook into them —there’s a pretty dramatic difference between a poached fresh egg and a poached not-so-fresh egg.
This difference reveals itself primarily in the egg white. A farm-fresh egg will hold together beautifully in the poaching liquid and produce a smooth, gorgeous orb of egg white with a runny yolk perfectly centered inside. An egg white that has spent the better part of the past year locked inside an eggshell in your refrigerator will behave exactly as you would if you spent months and months in a tiny egg-shell prison, and then were set free only to be dumped into a vat of boiling water: It will freak out and run all over the place, and in the end, you will fish from a poaching liquid lousy with amorphous blobs of foamy egg white a partially hardened yolk sheathed in a millimeter-thick white veil, and that will be very sad, even though it will still likely taste OK.
This is to say that, if you can, you should try to poach the freshest eggs you can find!
Lower the heat a tad so that the water never gets more agitated than a low boil—the egg will cool the water some, so don’t turn the heat all the way to low; just knock it down a smidge. Crack one egg into a small bowl or mug, but not directly into the water. You’re trying to avoid a sudden, violent, glunk! entry into the water for your egg, to ensure it holds together and cooks evenly. Take the small bowl or mug, lower it very close to the gently roiling surface of the water, and smoothly pour the egg into the water in one motion. (Incidentally, this is the smart way to do it when you’re frying eggs, too, even if cracking them directly onto the sizzling cooking surface is a lot more fun.)
The egg will immediately sink nearly all the way to the bottom of the water, and then begin to rise again. See how, even though it is wobbly and liquid, the egg white essentially hangs together in there.
You have about three minutes until it’s done cooking, during which time it doesn’t need any help from you, thankyouverymuch; toast, and very lightly butter, a slice of whole wheat sandwich bread while you wait, then stick that slice of toast on a plate.
Three minutes have gone by; grab a slotted spoon and, very gently, extract the egg from the water. Fold up a couple of paper towels on your off-hand and gently set the poached egg on them for a few moments, so they can draw some of the excess water off the egg. Now, set the egg on the slice of toast. There. You have poached an egg.
Huh. Looks pretty lonely on there, doesn’t it? Go ahead, make another. We’ll wait.
Grind some black pepper onto your poached eggs, sprinkle them with a little bit of salt, and serve them with a few thin slices of Nova salmon or smoked salmon or lox, either on the eggs or under them or just piled attractively off to the side; the salty fish will taste incredible with some of that runny yolk, and since you didn’t cook your eggs in a bunch of grease, you can eat them with something fatty and rich like oily salmon.
That right there is one tidy, good-looking, delicious, vivifying breakfast. Using the tines of your fork, puncture the eggs and watch the pretty yellow-orange liquid yolk run out across the toast. Looks yummy, doesn’t it? Clean and simple and bright. Perfect.