There are certain labor-intensive recipe phrases that can make the most diligent cook roll her eyes. "Do I really have to do that?" we wonder. Every week, we will track down the answer to that question. Why? Because as much as we love cooking, we're kind of lazy. Leave your Do I Really Have To Do That? questions in the comments and they shall be answered, saving us all a lot of needless trouble.
Recently I posted a picture on Instagram of a simple spring dinner (for the Shine Supper Club, natch). "Poached egg?" one of my friends asked. "I still suck at that." I gave her my stupid-easy egg-poaching method, which involves cracking eggs into boiling water, covering the pot, turning off the heat, and fishing them out after three minutes. And then a commenter piped up: "Add a tsp of vinegar to the water. My secret weapon!"
I've never used vinegar in my poached eggs, even though nearly every recipe echoes this suggestion, and they seem perfectly fine. But would my eggs be transcendent with it? What's the point?
Related: Egg recipes from the Shine Supper Club
"In the past I have asked cooks and chefs why we add vinegar to poached eggs, but never got a straight or consistent answer," Wini Moranville, author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook, told me. Our conversation set off a telephone tree. Wini then called her favorite French chef friend. He insisted he always adds vinegar, bien sur, but that it was more out of habit than for any particular reason. (And isn't that so often the case with cooking? We keep making things the way we always have, whether or not we know why or if it's the best method.)
So I called on Brian Buckley, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, for the teacherly, science-filled explanation. "Increasing the acidity of the poaching liquid with vinegar or lemon juice helps the egg proteins to coagulate faster and gives the finished egg a more attractive appearance." A-ha! "It really is more of a visual thing, and if you don't care what the eggs look like or you are covering them with hollandaise sauce it is a step you can skip."
Bottom Line: No, you don't really have to do that. If you simply want to slide a runny-yolked egg on top of a piece of toast, and you don't care what the whites look like, skip it. But if you're a hospital corner-making hawk eye for detail, go ahead and add the vinegar for tidy whites.
Recipe: Easy Poached Eggs
Do I really have to truss a chicken?
Do I really have to hand-wash my knives?
Do I really have to rinse and sort my lentils?