HEAT 2 to 3 inches of water in large saucepan or deep skillet to boiling. ADJUST HEAT to keep liquid simmering gently.
BREAK eggs, 1 at a time, into custard cup or saucer. Holding dish close to surface, SLIP egg into water.
COOK eggs until whites are completely set and yolks begin to thicken but are not hard, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not stir. LIFT eggs from water with slotted spoon. DRAIN in spoon or on paper towels. TRIM any rough edges, if desired. SPRINKLE with salt and pepper. SERVE immediately.
Use very fresh eggs for poaching. They hold their shape better and form fewer wispy threads or "angel wings" in the water.
Do not swirl the water when poaching eggs. This creates a vortex that will ruffle the delicate egg protein. Relatively quiet water that is gently simmering produces the best result.
Do not poach eggs ahead of time and hold them in the refrigerator.
Milk, broth, tomato juice, wine, even a pot of simmering soup, can be substituted for poaching water. Eggs will pick up color highlights from some liquids.
Adding vinegar or salt to the water to enhance coagulation is not necessary and can flavor the eggs.
Poaching gadgets: A simple saucepan and slotted spoon are the only utensils needed for superb poached eggs. However, specialized poaching equipment – rings that corral eggs as they cook in liquid, pan inserts with nonstick egg-shaped cups, and steam-cooking electric egg cookers – are also available.