How (and Why) to Pasteurize Eggs With Your Sous Vide Cooker

Consider the Egg

While we generally think of eggs as having two parts—the white and the yolk—there are actually three phases that we should care about: the yolk, the tight white, and the loose white. (McGee, On Food and Cooking, pg 75-78)

The yolk is the main nutrient source for the developing chicken embryo, and as such contains most of the nutritive value in the egg, including vitamins, minerals, and a good chunk of fat and protein. It's tightly bound in a membrane that keeps it spherical within the egg (though it flattens out and spreads when you break the egg onto a plate or in a pan.

The tight white consists of about 90 percent water with the rest being made up of proteins and a minute amount of minerals, fatty acids, and glucose. It is contained within a delicate membrane that is just slightly smaller than the full size of the egg.

Finally, the loose white is the part of the egg white that is not contained by the egg white membrane. When you crack the egg open, it's the white that spreads freely away from the rest of the egg. Its composition is similar to that of the tight white, but it has a lower concentration of proteins and other dissolved solids.

As eggs age, both the yolk and the tight white membranes will get thinner and more fragile. At the same time, the tight white will leak moisture into the loose white, diluting the loose white further and causing it to become even runnier.

Raw eggs are basically balloons of water thickened up by proteins. In their raw state, these proteins are tightly and individually packed and can thus flow relatively freely around each other. Think of them as little balls of yarn. As the egg gets heated, these balls slowly loosen up. Eventually, they begin to entangle one another, creating a semi-solid meshwork that is powerful enough to suspend the water, fat, and minerals that make up the rest of the egg.

Keep on cooking and that mesh will start to tighten up, eventually squeezing so tight that emulsions will break and the egg—in particular the egg yolk—will go from being tender and homogenous to dry and crumbly.

Why is this important for sous-vide cooking? Because of varying concentrations of different types of proteins within each of the eggs' three consituent parts, each of those parts behaves slightly differently when heated. Tight whites will begin to set first, though they don't become fully firm until a relatively high temperature. Loose whites remain watery until high temperatures, and yolks fall in the middle, gelling softy at moderate temperatures and getting firmer and firmer the more you heat them.

To demonstrate this, I cooked eggs in a sous-vide cooker to various temperatures ranging from 130°F (54.4°C) to 165°F (73.9°C)*. In each case, I heated large eggs for exactly 40 minutes—enough time for the egg to reach thermal equilibrium (that is, it is the same temperature as the water bath all the way through to the center), but not so long that the effects of prolonged cooking will have started to take effect. (We'll discuss those effects more later on.)

*Note that my sous-vide cooker has temp-set resolution of 1°F or 0.1°C, hence the conflicting number of significant digits.

Semi Hard and Hard Boiled Sous Vide Eggs

At 150°F (65.6°C) the yolk begins to firm up until it becomes crumbly around 165°F (73.9°C). Hard boiled eggs start in the middle of this range, though I still prefer to use the traditional boil in a pot method for them.

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Tips for Sous Vide Poached Eggs

  • Only use super-fresh eggs right out of the refrigerator, which will have tighter whites and work better for the poached/soft-cooked result. 
  • A word of caution: Do a pre-check for cracks. You definitely don’t want an egg floating around in your water bath and getting sucked into the immersion circulator, so only use eggs with no cracks. 
  • All eggs are different and egg size, age and even what the chicken ate plays a huge role in how they come out when poached. If you don’t get a perfect sous vide egg the first time, try again with different eggs.
  • Do a test egg or two ahead of time. It only takes 13 ½ minutes, so it’s worth a test to make sure you are happy with the texture. If it’s too soft, add a minute or two; if it’s too cooked, take a little time off. 
  • Experiment and adjust the cooking time to your taste. Keep track of the times by writing notes so you know for next time your exact preference. 
  • You can make these poached and sous vide scrambled eggs at the same time since they use the same water bath temperature and time. 

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Sous-Vide Egg Cooked to 145°F (62.8°C)

Here the whites are firm enough to let you cut through them and pick them up with a spoon, while the yolk remains raw. This is my favorite temperature for poached and soft-boiled eggs (details and recipes to follow).

Loose white: Watery and broken.Tight white: Opaque white with a ghostly fringe, set enough to cut with a spoon.Yolk: Ever-so-slightly thicker than raw.

HOW TO PASTEURIZE EGGS

If you can’t find pasteurized egg whites then you can pasteurize them yourself! Chefs pasteurize their own eggs all the time in restaurants. To pasteurize an egg, the yolk must reach an internal temperature of 138ºF. Don’t worry, an egg will scramble at a mich higher temperature so you’re not going to cook your eggs as long as you watch the temperature carefully. 

The pasteurized eggs will still have the consistency of raw eggs and can be stored in the refrigerator after pasteurization. They can be used just like any egg so if you need just the whites, you can separate the egg yolks from the whites and have pasteurized egg whites. 

STEP 1 – Place the eggs you want to pasteurize into a medium-sized saucepan in an even layer. Cover with water so that there is 1″ of water above the eggs. Then remove your eggs. You don’t want them in there until your water is at the right temp.

STEP 2 – Heat the water to 140ºF using a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Any warmer than 142ºF and you’re going to cook your eggs. 

Pro-tip – If you have a Sous Vide, this process is incredibly easy because the sous vide will keep the water at the exact temperature you need. To pasteurize eggs using a Sous Vide, set the temperature to 135ºF and allow them to pasteurize for 75 minutes. This lower temperature keeps the protein of the egg white more intact and the longer pasteurization time further reduces the risk of pathogens. 

STEP 3 – Place your (room temperature) eggs in the water. Heat the eggs for 3 1/2 minutes. Make sure the temperature of the water never goes above 142ºF or you will cook your eggs. 

NOTE: These times and temperatures are based on the recommendations of International Egg Pasteurization Manual

STEP 4 – Transfer your pasteurized eggs into a bowl of cold water to stop the heating process. Then store them in the fridge to use later! That’s it!

If you are pasteurizing extra-large eggs from your own chickens then heat them for 5 minutes instead of 3. 

NOTE: It is recommended that pregnant women do not eat under-cooked eggs. You can read more about egg safety here. 

The risk of getting salmonella from a raw egg is about 1 in 20,000. 

This is not a 100% guaranteed way of removing all risks of pathogens, but if done properly it does reduce the risks greatly.

How to Pasteurize Eggs Sous Vide Step by Step

Now that you know what exactly pasteurized eggs are and why to pasteurize them at home, here are four simple steps on doing the job in your sous vide.

Step 1: Preheat water

Preheat water to 135°F (57.2°C)  using a sous vide immersion circulator. (I use Anova.)

Step 2: Get eggs in the hot-water bath

Step 2: Get eggs in the hot-water bath

Once the water temperature is reached, use a slotted spoon or a spider strainer to gently lower a few large eggs in their shells into the water bath.

Alternatively, you could place all eggs in a plastic bag and submerge the bag under the water, allowing the water to fill the bag to keep the eggs at the bottom of your cooking vessel. (This is optional, but I prefer it because you can fish out the eggs all at once by lifting up the plastic bag later.) Set the cooking time for 75 minutes. 

Step 3: Chill thoroughly in an ice-water bath

Step 3: Chill thoroughly in an ice-water bath

A few minutes before the eggs are done, prepare an ice-water bath. Once the timer goes off, fish out the eggs from the hot-water bath and place them into the ice-water bath immediately. If your eggs are in a plastic bag, carefully lift the bag by grabbing one corner and tilt it to pour out as much hot water as possible, then drop the bag containing the pasteurized eggs into the ice bath, allowing the ice water to fill the bag so the eggs are completely submerged under the ice water. Chill for 20-30 minutes. 

Step 4: Mark and refrigerate

Step 4: Mark and refrigerate

Once the pasteurized eggs are thoroughly chilled, wipe them with a dry cloth, mark them on the shells with a permanent marker, and refrigerate.

Hi, I'm Liz!

Hi, I’m Liz!

I’m an artist and cake decorator from Portland, Oregon. Cakes are my obession, which is why I’m dedicated to crafting tried-and-true recipes, small cake tutorials, as well as advanced online cake courses!

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