Written by Chef Alan Zox Thursday, 07 November 2013 00:00
There are many different methods to cooking such as roasting, grilling, sautéing, boiling, frying, braising, poaching, steaming and even microwaving, which I must admit is not a technique I recommend. Today our focus is poaching.
Many people just get Asian takeout when it comes to poaching or steaming. Whether Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai, poaching is a common Pacific Rim cooking technique. In contrast, most Western-style cuisine is more frequently fried, grilled, roasted or braised. French cuisine is an exception as a journey through any Julia Child recipe will attest.
Many of us sell ourselves short not to give other methods a try. Poaching is one of the easiest, quickest most satisfying cooking methods available. Further, poaching is among the most nutritious and healthiest methods ever devised in that it does not use any fat in the cooking process to carry heat to the food. And it is as flexible as the flavoring you add to the liquid.
Poaching is ideally done on top of your oven on a burner with liquid reaching temperatures between 160°F and 180°F. If the liquid is bubbling at the top turn it down until you only see the liquid moving or simmering slightly at the bottom. Most importantly know that the liquid will heat very quickly. So be careful especially when removing the top of your poacher.
What liquid and how much do we use?
The liquid you poach in will significantly determine the taste of the food. Try water, milk, wine, broth, lemon juice, vinegar or pureed vegetables in a liquid of your choice, an approach made popular by author and chef Jean-George Vongerichten. Not very much liquid is needed-- 2-4 inches high-- or approximately 2 quarts of liquid in a large pan, dependent upon the thickness of items to be poached. The goal is to submerge the item in the liquid.
Place the item to be poached into a “poaching bath” completely covered until the internal temperature of chicken or fish has reached about 160 F. This will take about 8 minutes in the bath at the desired temperature or confirm the temp by a food thermometer. Don ‘t expect your item to be brown or crispy but what you may lose in flavor will be made up for in moisture and the knowledge that you are giving up fat and dairy. However you can fry some homemade shallots or garlic crisps on top to achieve that crispy flavor.
As you can see from the above procedure, no special equipment is needed for poaching other than a medium to large size sauté pan as long as it will hold the proper amount of liquid and the items to be poached without touching each other. If a larger pan is needed use a large roasting pan sitting on two burners to hold whatever you are poaching with another pan that sits inside with holes. An aluminum pan with holes you have created will do just fine. This second pan must be low enough so that the poaching items are at least partly in the liquid and partly out which gives you both a poaching and steaming effect. Cover the entire poaching container you have created or purchased with a metal top or a piece of aluminum foil. This works well and is less expensive than poachers sold at Williams-Sonoma.
Here’s a simple recipe for poached salmon. This is a dish that is divine with a fresh tossed salad (Try four types of lettuce like romaine, arugula, bib and some sprouts that you gently toss like a baby) with a lemon, fennel vinaigrette and some brown rice and bulgur wheat on the side. Toast ¼ cup slivered almonds and a handful of dried cranberries and add to the rice and wheat dish with one ounce of butter or a tablespoon of olive oil.
Dipping Sauce — Serves 4
2 lbs salmon cut into four parts.
Wash and carefully dry with a paper towel. Also try any white fish like halibut, flounder or fluke, squid or shrimp poached for 2- 4 minutes. Vary the time by the width and number of items to be poached. Trial and error is the best instructor you can find.
2 quarts poaching liquid with 1/2 cup pinot grigio, juice of one lemon and 3 cups water
1 medium yellow onion
1 poblano chile and 1 Italian red pepper all roughly chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
1 celery stalk and 1 carrot all roughly chopped
Poach the salmon for 6 - 8 minutes.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet tamari sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon toasted and crushed fennel seeds.