Sous vide is French for “under vacuum.” In reality, this type of cooking doesn’t have to actually be performed with a vacuum, but you do need to get as much air out of the cooking packet (typically a plastic bag of some sort) as possible, which is then placed in a temperature-controlled water bath. Without a vacuum pump, the easiest way to expel the air from a baggie is called the water-displacement method: put your food into a baggie, then almost close it, leaving a small gap in the closure for the air to escape — you then simply lower the bag into a container of water, so that the air is forced out the top, after which you can then finish closing the baggie (inserting a straw in the opening can make things easier). In this article I describe how to make poached eggs using a sous-vide device.
We got our sous-vide device a week or so ago: Joule from Seattle-based ChefSteps (Seattle being in Washington State, for any non-USA readers). Joule, which you can see in the photo to the left, stands about 11″ high, which is pretty compact when compared to other brands of sous-vide devices. To keep it steady in the pot, it has a magnet in its base; or, if you’re using a non-ferrous pot, it has a clip to hold it to the pot’s side (on the back side, so not visible in the photo). Its maximum temperature at sea-level is 208°, just short of water’s boiling point, 212°. But what if you live at a higher altitude, say 5,003′ in Fort Collins, CO (I lived there for about four years in the mid-1990s), where the boiling point is 203°? Joule has an air-pressure sensor to ensure that you don’t exceed the boiling point — is that awesome (I wanted to say “cool,” but that just doesn’t seem quite right, does it?) or what?
Joule has a button on the top to turn it off and on, an LED light that will show solid or flashing lights to indicate its state of operation (white, orange, green, yellow, blue, and red), an inlet at the bottom pulls water into its heating element, and then shoots the heated water out a slot a couple inches or so above the base. With no other apparent buttons or controls you might ask: how do you control the darn thing? With a Wi-Fi or bluetooth connection between Joule and an app on your phone or tablet of course (apps are available for Apple or Android tablets and phones). If you want to control it in Windows, you can use a web browser and your Facebook account to access Facebook Messenger, which will then allow you to send messages to your Joule device using a chatbot. To use this feature, go to https://www.messenger.com/t/Chefsteps and log-in to your Facebook account, and then you’ll be asked to log-in to your ChefSteps account. If you have an Amazon Echo (we have one in our kitchen and another in the living room), you can also enable it to control Joule, such that by speaking to Echo you can set the temperature for the water, ask what the current water temperature is, and turn Joule off (tres Star Trek, n’est ce pas?).
We have been experimenting with Joule on various dishes. The day we got it, we tried Joule on some frozen shrimp, and then fresh chicken breasts. The frozen shrimp came out fine, but the chicken was truly amazing — my wife Cindy and I agreed it was the best chicken breast we’ve ever made — moist, tender, and perfectly cooked.
I enjoy soft-boiled and poached eggs. Soft-boiled is typically eaten in an egg cup — after taking off the top of the egg, you can then scoop out the runny yolk and soft whites, and also dip pieces of toast into the yolk. The preparation that most folks know for poached eggs is probably eggs benedict: a split and toasted English muffin, each half of which is then topped with Canadian bacon, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce.
The classic method of preparing a poached egg is to bring a pot of water to a simmer, adding some salt and vinegar to the water (the vinegar is supposed to help hold together the egg white), and then swirl the water and add in your egg, then letting it cook undisturbed for five minutes. It isn’t as easy it sounds, and the egg often doesn’t seem to want to hold together in a nice uniform mass (when I’ve tried it, they often end-up looking like jelly-fish moving around the pot, swirls of tentacles trailing behind).
Given how awkward that old-school method can be, alternatives have been developed. One is the dedicated poaching pan, which is shallow to hold the water, and then an insert with four cups to hold the eggs while they cook. While I do like poached eggs, I thought it a bit much to dedicate a whole pan for just that purpose. So the alternative that I’ve used in the past are small silicone poaching cups that float in a pan of water. You spray the interior of the cups with non-stick cooking spray, crack an egg into a bowl or ramekin (don’t try cracking it directly into a cup — it’ll most likely spill) then pour your whole egg into the cup and, finally, place the cup in a pot of simmering water. You need to be careful, though, as the cups tip over very easily and it can be difficult to get the eggs into them without spilling. Finally, you’ve got to move them to the pot of hot water, which is another opportunity to spill or drop something.
Then, a few days ago, I tried to poach some eggs with Joule, but instead of using a plastic bag, I just put the eggs in a pot of water with Joule, a method suggested by some users, as an egg’s shell provides its own waterproof-vacuum packet. I then set Joule to 147° for 60 minutes, those being the recommended settings in the Joule app (yes, it has recipes built-in, with times and temperatures). While the eggs came out relatively soft-boiled or poached, they were not at all easy to peel. It’s difficult enough peeling a hard-boiled egg, but when the white is on the soft side, it can get very messy, very quickly. Another “problem” with this attempt was the long wait time — I really don’t want to have sit around for an hour to have my breakfast.
That experience led to a lot of research into recommended settings and methods that others have used, which got me to the version described below. My first goal was to do away with the necessity of peeling altogether. Some folks without sous-vide devices suggest putting a square of plastic wrap into a bowl or ramekin, spraying it with non-stick cooking spray, cracking an egg into it, and then wrapping it up around the egg to close it, either by tying it in a knot or tying it off with butcher’s twine. You then put the egg-filled bags into simmering, not boiling, water for six minutes or so (times vary depending on how soft or hard you want your eggs).
Below are instructions for preparing sous-vide poached eggs, followed by a photo gallery showing steps along the way.
Sous vide poached eggs
Yield 2 poached eggs
A quick and easy way to poach eggs with no muss or fuss.
1 can non-stick cooking spray
1 sandwich-sized or quart seal-able plastic baggie
About 8″ of water in a pot
2 tbsp. butter
salt and pepper
- Fill pot of water about half-way, or just enough to cover the outlet of your sous-vide device.
- Place sous-vide device in pot, plug it in, and set the target temperature for 200° F.
- While the water is heating, prepare your plastic baggie by spraying its interior with non-stick cooking spray.
- Break the two eggs into a container, from which you will then pour them into a baggie. For more servings, use more eggs and baggies.
- To force the air from the baggie, lower it into water (you can use the water that is warming in the pan), forcing the air out, and then closing the baggie’s seal. Set aside and wait for the water to reach its target temperature.
- Once the water is at 200° F, put your baggie into the pot with the sous vide machine and set a timer for 5½ to 6 minutes (you may adjust the time and temperature as you learn what sort of texture and amount of doneness you’re shooting for). You may clip the bag(s) to the side of the pot with clothespin to keep them from moving around.
- When the time is up, remove the bag from the water with a slotted spoon and pour into a bowl. Add butter, salt, and pepper to taste; I also put some cooked and crumbled bacon into mine. Serve with buttered toast.
Sous-vide poached eggs photo gallery
If you have another way you prefer to make poached eggs, please let me know. This time around, I cooked my eggs for 6 minutes in the sous vide bath, but one yolk was a trifle solid, so I think I’ll try 5 minutes and 30 seconds next time. Lots more experiments are to come! ♦
Get your own sous vide cooker
If you’d like to get a Joule sous vide device like we used for this recipe, please click here.