“Poaching: A moist-heat cooking method that uses convection to transfer heat from a hot (160-180 F) liquid to the food submerged in it.”
Webster’s Dictionary of
On restaurant menus it is common to list ingredients and describe the cooking method. Thus we see “pan seared,” “roasted,” “grilled,” “braised,” “sautéed” and many more. It is important to remember that there are only two basic cooking methods: dry heat and moist heat. Heat is transferred to the food directly, as in placing a cutlet in a hot skillet (conduction), or indirectly by the currents caused by the movement of molecules in a liquid (convection).
Dry heat cooking methods include broiling, sautéeing, roasting and deep frying. They work best for tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish. A high quality steak is grilled at high temperature to make it palatable and flavorful, not to tenderize it. Moist heat methods include boiling, simmering and poaching. Braising is a combination method that requires browning at high temperature first and then adding liquid for long, slow cooking to tenderize. Simmering liquid such as water, stock or wine breaks down connective tissue in less tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish.
Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method that is unique in that small, tender portions of food are simmered gently below the boiling point to make them palatable, while retaining their innate flavor and texture. Fish and eggs are the most common foods that are poached, but fruit, vegetables and poultry can also be cooked using this method.
In classic French cuisine a “court bouillon” is used as the poaching liquid. Court bouillon is water simmered with vegetables, seasonings and an acid ingredient such as wine, vinegar or lemon juice. But aromatic liquids such as water with herbs or intense liquids such as red wine reductions are also good for poaching. When cooked properly, poached foods retain the delicate flavors of the food without adding fat. Here are some recipes for poached foods:
Tea-Poached Salmon with Curried Peanut Butter Broccoli Rabe
Purchase four 6-ounce salmon fillets and place them on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the contents of 2 tea bags (I used lemon tea) over the salmon and refrigerate while preparing the meal.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add 1 cup chopped onion along with 2 tablespoons curry powder. Combine 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter with 1 cup soy milk and add to the cooked onion mixture. Cut one bunch of broccoli rabe into small pieces (both leaves and stems) and add them to the sauté pan. Toss the broccoli rabe with the peanut butter sauce, cover and simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, spray a shallow pan with no-stick and place the tea-covered salmon fillets in the bottom. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a separate pan and pour it gently over the salmon. Place the salmon on medium heat and bring up almost to the boiling point. Remove the salmon fillets and serve over the broccoli rabe.
If desired, mix 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill and 1 teaspoon lemon juice to use as a garnish on the salmon.
Poached Flounder in
Red Wine Reduction with Beets
Combine 1 bottle of merlot and 1 cup chicken stock in a saucepan. Add 3 peeled and quartered beets (reserve the beet greens and stalks), 1 chopped carrot, 1 peeled and quartered onion and 1 stalk of chopped celery. Season with 3 whole cloves of garlic, 1 bay leaf and 3 sprigs of thyme. Simmer until wine is reduced by half. Strain out the vegetables and reserve the beets. Reserve the reduced wine as a poaching liquid.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. When very hot, add one onion cut in long strips and cook until brown and caramelized. Add the chopped beet greens and beet stalks along with 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Add the reserved beets and season with sea salt and pepper. Moisten this mixture with 2 tablespoons of the poaching liquid and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of flounder into small fillets, cutting the large fillets down the lateral line. Season lightly with salt and pepper and roll into small paupiettes. Stick a toothpick through the rolls to hold them together. Place the flounder in a shallow pan and pour the red wine poaching liquid over them. Press a piece of foil down over the fish and bring to a simmer on the stove. Remove the flounder after about 4 minutes to avoid overcooking. Place the fish on top of the beet mixture and pour some of the poaching liquid over all.
Poached Striped Bass
in Court Bouillon
Prepare a court bouillon by adding 4 cups water and 1 cup white wine to a saucepan. Tie together 1 stalk of celery, 6 parsley stems, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf with butcher’s twine or string. Place this bundle in the liquid with half of a peeled onion stuck with 2 whole cloves. Season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 8 peppercorns. Simmer 30 minutes and strain.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of boned and skinned striped bass into 4-ounce chunks and place them in a shallow pan. Pour the court bouillon over them and bring to a simmer. Cook until the fish is opaque, about 10 minutes (do not overcook). Serve over fresh green beans or sautéed fresh corn. Garnish with parsley and lemon.
Poached Fresh Peaches
in Rosé Wine
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of North Fork rosé wine with 1/4 cup sugar and 3 strips of lemon rind. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Add 4 peaches (leave skin on) and cook slowly until tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove the peaches and cool. Slip off the skin and cut into wedges. Reduce the poaching liquid to a thin syrup and pour over the peaches. Let mixture cool. If desired, add 1/2 pint of fresh blackberries before serving with vanilla ice cream.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.