If you quickly told a friend how to poach salmon -- cover the fish in liquid and cook it until it's flaky -- that friend might easily think you were talking about boiling. Boiling and poaching, however, are not the same at all. Poaching is a low-and-slow cooking method that uses gentle simmering -- not a rolling boil -- to yield tender salmon. A variety of liquids allow you to infuse the salmon with lots of flavor.
Poaching in Court Bouillon
Salmon is traditionally poached in a broth called court bouillon, and making your own is simple. In a large pot, combine diced carrot, celery and onion, salt, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, water and white wine. You may also add thyme, tarragon, garlic, fennel or lemon juice if you wish. For every 8 cups of water, you'll need about 1 cup of wine, one small onion, one carrot, one stalk of celery, a few bay leaves and cloves and about 1 teaspoon each of salt and peppercorns. Add the heads and bones from a few fish to the mixture to create the traditional fish stock called fumet. Bring the liquid to a boil, then simmer it for about 30 minutes. Strain out the solids and use the liquid as your poaching liquid. Alternately, buy seafood stock at the grocery store or dissolve seafood bouillon cubes in boiling water.
Other Flavorful Liquids
Poach salmon in milk or coconut milk to give the fish a silky texture, or cook it in dry white wine. Add chunks of clove-studded onion and bay leaves to infuse the liquid with flavor. Experiment with combining liquids; for instance, pour coconut milk into a finished fumet to make it creamy. For a truly decadent meal, poach the salmon in fat by covering it in olive oil, melted butter or a half-and-half mixture of the two.
Before poaching, check the salmon fillets for bones by running your fingers over the flesh. Use needlenose pliers to remove any bones. Salt the salmon, and heat enough liquid to cover the fish in a large saucepan over low heat. The liquid should be at a low simmer -- if it's bubbling, it's too hot. Place the fish in the liquid, cover the pan and let it cook for eight to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. If you're poaching fish in fat, let it come to room temperature and poach it for 25 minutes in fat heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, advises "Fine Cooking" magazine. To poach a whole salmon, wrap it in cheesecloth before submerging it in the liquid, or cook it in a fish poacher. The salmon is done when your fork can easily peel flakes off of the surface. Check that it's cooked to at least 145 degrees, advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Prepare a sauce for salmon out of the flavorful poaching liquid at the end of cooking. Stir a spoonful of mayonnaise into the liquid, or make a roux by cooking flour and fat in a saucepan and whisking in the poaching liquid. Make a simple butter sauce by cooking down white wine and shallots and adding butter and fresh herbs. Or refrigerate the cooked fish in a covered dish for one to two hours, or until it's thoroughly chilled, and serve it cold. Top it with lemon juice and dill or a bright mustard sauce. In the side dishes, echo the flavors used to prepare the salmon. Soak vegetables in a lemon and tarragon marinade and roast them, or make a coconut soup to serve with salmon poached in coconut milk. Citrusy potato salad or wild rice are also fitting side dishes for salmon.
- The Joy of Cooking; Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker
- Fine Cooking: A New Way to Cook Fish: Olive Oil Poaching
- Fine Cooking: How to Remove Pin Bones from a Salmon Fillet
- Bon Appetit: How to Make Beurre Blanc (Because Everything Tastes Better with Butter)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart
- Photo Credit dbvirago/iStock/Getty Images
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