How to Poach a Fish

Three Methods:Poaching in BrothPoaching in Olive OilPoaching for Preservation

Poaching fish is a simple way to bring out the best in its flavor and texture. Fish that has been lightly poached in either broth or oil emerges with a silky texture and a delicate seafood flavor that's easily masked by other cooking methods. If you have a piece of perfectly fresh fish, poaching is the cooking method that will do it justice.

Method 1
Poaching in Broth

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    Prepare a court bouillon. Poaching fish is part of traditional French cooking, and the standard liquid used for poaching is court bouillon, a broth made with water, salt, vegetables and aromatic herbs. Court bouillon can be as simple as salted water with some white wine, but adding a few additional fresh ingredients is a great way to enhance the flavor of the fish. To make a simple court bouillon, put the following ingredients in a pot and simmer them for 30 minutes, then allow the mixture to cool:[1]
    • 1 gallon (3.8 L) of water
    • 1/4 cup of Kosher salt
    • 1 cup of white wine
    • 1 white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
    • 1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
    • 1 sprig of thyme
    • 2 sprigs tarragon
    • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
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    Prepare your fish. Any type of fish may be poached. Since this cooking method defines and concentrates the flavor of the fish, choose one with a taste you love. It's important to select the freshest fish possible, since an extra hint of fishiness will cause the whole dish to taste off. Purchase fish from a source you trust, and look for fish with bright scales and firm, translucent flesh.
    • If you're poaching a whole fish, choose one with clear eyes and ask the fishmonger to gut and clean it if necessary. Rinse the fish to remove any impurities before cooking.
    • If you're poaching fillets, use a knife to make several slash marks into the skin. This will prevent the fillets from curling up as they poach.
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    Cook the fish in the court bouillon. Pour the court bouillon into a stockpot large enough to fit the fish and liquid (or a fish poacher, if you have access to this special equipment). You'll need enough liquid to cover the fish entirely, and a gallon should suffice. From here, the method differs slightly depending on whether you're poaching a whole fish or fillets:
    • For a whole fish, set the fish in the stockpot and pour the cooled court bouillon over the fish until it's entirely covered. Place it over medium heat to bring it to a simmer.
    • For fish fillets, first pour the court bouillon into the stockpot and bring it to a simmer. Check its temperature with a thermometer; when it reaches 160 °F (71 °C), place the fish fillets into the heated broth.
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    Finish poaching the fish. Allow the fish to simmer in the bouillon for about five minutes, or until the flesh is opaque and easily flakes apart. Never let the liquid come to a full boil, since this could cause the fish to get overcooked. Once the fish is ready, use a fish spatula to transfer it to a plate for serving.
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    Serve the fish with a velouté sauce. Poached fish is traditionally served with a flavorful sauce called velouté. The sauce is made from the leftover court bouillon mixed with a roux composed of flour and butter. Serve the poached fish with a pour of velouté and some fresh vegetables. To make Velouté, follow these steps:
    • Cook 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons flour to make a medium roux.
    • Whisk the roux into 6 cups of heated court bouillon.
    • Allow the mixture to simmer until it's reduced by 1/3 and thickened to the consistency of a sauce.

Method 2
Poaching in Olive Oil

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    Choose a flavorful fish. Olive oil poaching is a technique best used with fish that are sturdy and flavorful, such as salmon, halibut or tuna. Choose either steaks or fillets that are about 3/4 to one inch thick for best results.[2] The taste and texture of the final dish is better with thicker, sturdier fish than it is with very delicate fillets.
    • Season the fish with salt, pepper and other herbs that complement the meal you're serving.
    • This method also works well with shrimp, prawns and other shellfish.
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    Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Cooking at a low temperature will preserve the integrity of the fish.
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    Let the fish come to room temperature. Set it out on the counter for 10 minutes or so before you cook it. Letting the fish come to room temperature will ensure that it cooks evenly and fully once you place it in the oil bath. Putting it straight into the oil from the refrigerator would cause the temperature of the oil to drop, throwing off the cooking time and affecting the taste and texture of the finished dish.[3]
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    Prepare the baking dish. Line a glass baking dish with thin slices of lemon, then arrange the fish fillets on top of the lemon slices. Pour enough olive oil over the fish to cover the fillets.
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    Poach the fish for one hour. Place the baking dish in the oven and poach the fish until the fillets are opaque and flake apart easily when forked. Check the fish after an hour, and return it to the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes if the fillets need additional time. Serve warm over a bed of rice or steamed vegetables.

Method 3
Poaching for Preservation

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    Use fresh fish. Poaching fish is a great way to preserve it for a few extra days so you don't have to eat it the same night you bring it home. If you happen to have access to a lot of fresh fish, and you want to be able to eat some later in the week, this method will allow you to keep it in the refrigerator longer than you otherwise would, then prepare the fish using any method you choose when you're ready.
    • For example, if you want to have fried fish on Friday night, but you know the fish won't keep until then, poaching it will preserve the texture and flavor and allow you to finish the dish when you're ready.
    • Of course, freezing or canning are also excellent methods for preserving fish.
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    Poach the fish until it's half done. Using either the court bouillon or olive oil poaching method, poach the fish for half the recommended cooking time. Check the fish after half the time has passed; it should be slightly opaque in color, but not cooked enough to easily flake. When the fish is about half cooked, remove it from the poaching liquid.
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    Store the fish in a food storage container. Place it in the refrigerator and use the poached fish within a week. Since it's only half cooked, you can sauté, grill, or fry the fish and retain its flavor and texture without overcooking it.
    • Make sure the fish is cooked completely when you use it in your intended dish. Whether you sauté, grill or fry it, be sure it's opaque and flaky.
    • Don't keep the fish for longer than a week before using. Even fully-cooked fish doesn't keep forever in the refrigerator.

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