Serving

Poaching Fish
Worldwide

Poaching is ideal for bringing out the character of delicately flavored fish - and it's healthy. You can poach your fish whole, "pan dressed" (head and tail removed), filets or steaks. It's also fine for scallops, shrimp and squid. Unlike braising or stewing, the liquid fish is poached in will be discarded (individual recipes may violate this rule), though it can be used more than one time in a single session.


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Making Court Bouillon Poach
Poaching fillets Fish Poacher
Fish Poacher

Fish are generally poached in a Court Bouillon (say "Booyon"). Court means "short" in French, implying the bouillon contains herbs and vegetables only - no meat. The court bouillons listed here are all excellent and well tested. The #2 East Asia is definitely worth trying, fitting well with increasingly popular "fusion" cuisines.

For poaching a whole fish (except very deep bodied fish like Pomfret and Pompano) a fish poaching pan like the one shown is ideal. You could improvise with an oval roasting pan but it'd take even more poaching liquid. Even with the poaching pan a lot of liquid is needed so an economical court bouillon like #3 is a good idea - #1 would need a whole bottle of white wine which you might rather be drinking.

The method outline here is deep poaching where the fish is submerged and the liquid is discarded after use. Another method of "poaching" fish in "court bouillon" uses relatively shallow liquid with both liquid and vegetables served as a sauce with the fish. Creole Catfish in Court Bouillon is an example, but this method is also used in France.

Fish suitable for poaching:   Bass, Cod, Haddock, Halibut, Pomfret, Pompano, Salmon, Snapper, Sole, Tilapia, Trout, Turbot.
Matter of Opinion:   Catfish - some people just don't like poached catfish, but I have no objection to it.
Not so good for poaching:   Shark, Mackerel, Tuna.

Recipes & Quantities:   #1 is the classic poach but my favorites are #4 with Red Wine and #2 East Asia (very tasty, compatible with Western sauces, and the most economical). A half recipe is sufficient for thin filets in a 2 quart saute pan. For a whole fish in an 18 inch fish poacher you will need about a double recipe. With Court Bouillon #1 you'd have a whole bottle of wine invested so you probably want a fish about 16 inches long weighing around 2 pounds to make it worthwhile - or use the #3 with vinegar.







#1
6
3
4
1
4
1
1
1-1/2
1
8
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#2
8
8
3/4
2
4
1/2
2/3
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#3
8
1/2
6
2
3
2
4
2
1
1
-----

#4
6
3
6
4
10
1
1
6
1
1/2

c
oz
oz




c
t

----


c

in


T
t
----


c
c
oz
oz
oz
cl



t
----


c
c
oz
oz
oz



t
t
Court Bouillon  
Water
Celery stalk
Onion
Lemon
Parsley sprig
Bay Leaf
Thyme sprig
White Wine dry
Salt
Peppercorns
------------

CB East Asia
Water
Cilantro springs
Ginger root
Garlic clove
Scallions
Oil
Salt
------------

CB w/Vinegar
Water
Vinegar
Onion
Carrot
Celery
Garlic
Parsley sprigs
Thyme sprigs
Bay Leaf
Salt
------------

CB w/Red Wine  
Water
Red Wine
Celery
Carrot
Onion
Thyme
Bay Leaf
Parsley
Salt
Peppercorns
Procedure
  1. Select a sauté pan, fish poacher or other tightly coverable vessel sufficient in size and depth to hold your fish completely covered with water. It should have enough room so filets are not on top of each other or they won't poach evenly.
  2. To find out how much liquid you need, put the fish in the pan and fill with cold water to the necessary depth. The liquid should be enough to cover but not much more. Remove the fish and measure the water. Note: if you're poaching filets they will curl some so you need a little extra depth. Fillets are very rarely poached skin-on, because those would curl up into rolls.
  3. Select the ingredients for the poaching liquid you wish to use, adjusting the amount to the amount of water. Prepare them as needed and place all ingredients in the pan with the measured amount of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 1/2 hour or as noted in "Hints" below.
  4. Strain the poaching liquid if desired and set aside until needed.
  5. Prepare the rest of your meal and the sauce you will serve the fish with. The fish will poach quickly and should be served immediately.
For Filets, Shellfish, Small Fish.
  1. When ready to go, bring the poaching liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
  2. Lower the fish into the liquid and turn the heat to high. The moment you see the first bubbles of boiling turn off the heat and cover the pan tightly. Let it sit for about 4 to 10 minutes depending on thickness. Remove fish and serve.
For Larger or Thicker Fish Fillets
  1. When ready to go, bring the poaching liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
  2. lower the fish into the liquid and turn the heat up. As soon as you see the first bubbles of boiling turn the heat down to below a simmer and cover tightly. Check in a bit to make sure the liquid is barely moving with few or no bubbles reaching the surface. Poach for 10 minutes to 20 minutes depending on size of fish.
For Whole Fish with Skin On
  1. Strain the Court Boullion and let it cool. Starting with cold Bouillon minimizes skin breakage.
  2. When ready to go, lower the fish into the liquid, cover tightly and bring to a simmer over medium heat, checking now and then.
  3. When the first bubbles break the surface, turn the heat down to below a simmer. Poach for 10 to 20 minutes depending on size of fish.
Hints
  • Fish to be Served Cold   They should be allowed to cool in the cooking liquid for best flavor and texture.

  • #1 Court Bouillon:   Cut Celery, Onion and Lemon into medium slices crosswise and put All Ingredients into a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1/2 hour. Strain before poaching the fish.
    Variations: many variations of the herbs and amounts exist. Some include carrot and herbs may include thyme and tarragon.

  • #2 East Asia:   Put the Cilantro sprigs in whole. Peel Garlic and crush with the side of the knife. Slice Ginger and hit with the back of your knife or a kitchen mallet to crush slightly. cut Scallions into 1" lengths. Add Oil and Salt. Simmer liquid for only 5 to 10 minutes before adding fish.
    Variations: for a more Thai version use basil in place of some of the cilantro.

  • #3 Court Bouillon with Vinegar:   some chefs recommend vinegar rather than wine when poaching shellfish, but vinegar court bouillon is also used for fish. Also, some use a mix of vinegar and white wine. You'll want to use a good quality white wine vinegar in most cases. Slice Onion and Carrot crosswise thin. Peel Garlic and crush with the flat side of a knife. Put All Ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil and simmer 1/2 hour. Strain the liquid before use.

  • #4 Court Bouillon with Red Wine:   Cut Celery, Carrot and Onion into medium slices crosswise and put All Ingredients into a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1/2 hour. Strain before poaching the fish.
Tools
  • Fish Poacher:   This pan is excellent for poaching whole fish of some size, especially since it comes with a rack with handles for lifting the fish out. Though it takes a lot less liquid than, say, an oval roasting pan would, it's still a lot so you really have to want to poach a large fish whole. On the other hand, I use the reversible lid of the model I have (shown above left) for a baking dish for fish and the whole pan and rack with just a half inch of water (or the basket inverted and lots of water if the fish isn't too thick) for steaming fish.
  1. U.S. measure: t=teaspoon, T=Tablespoon, c=cup, qt=quart, oz=ounce, #=pound, cl=clove in=inch, ar=as required tt=to taste
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