Poissons à la Français:
Poaching is under-appreciated cooking method. At it’s core, it consists of putting protein into hot liquid until it is done.
As with most cooking methods, there’s a delicious way to do this and a not-so-delicious way.
The less than tasty method involves boiling water, dropping in chicken breasts and cooking them until they are rubber. Institutional cafeterias did this for decades and it’s probably a large part of why poaching is not a method often used by the home cook. If that was the result, I wouldn’t try it either.
However, if we take a step back to the basics of French cooking, poaching is a flavorful and low-fat way to prepare chicken or firm fish like salmon or halibut. Since the meat is cooked entirely in liquid, it will turn out moist every single time.
I ended up with two black cod fillets this weekend, which has a texture and flavor reminiscent of Chilean sea bass with out the over-fishing and import issues. I wasn’t in a mood to mind a grill, so I decided to re-visit poaching.
There are two keys to a good poach. First, the liquid. If plain water is used, then the results will be flavorless and bland.
Traditionally poaching is done in a liquid called Court Bouillon, which consists of equal parts water and white wine along with a little acid ” typically lemon, but white wine vinegar can be used as well. Light herbs like parsley and thyme can be included for extra flavor as well.
The second factor is temperature. The obvious approach is to bring the liquid to a boil, pop in the meat and proceed from there. Don’t. Low and slow is the watchword of poaching. The poaching liquid should be between 160 and 180 degrees ” a nice low simmer.
Slide the fish into the pot and keep an eye on it, depending on the thickness and type of fish, it will be finished when a thermometer shows an internal temperature between 100 and 120 degrees.
Since the flavors from poaching tend to be subtle, I made a compound butter to top the fish. The butter is meant to go on fish, but it’s equally delicious on vegetables, toasted baguettes or anything else that needs a little lemon-garlic infusion. It can be made a day ahead and keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
All ingredients ” including the fish ” came from the Nevada City Grower’s Market.
Chef Kady Guyton recently graduated cum laude from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also welcomes readers questions and requests.
Equal parts white wine and water to cover fish
Juice from one lemon
2 parsley stems
2 thyme stems
2 filets of firm fish – approximately 6 to 8 ounces each
Combine all ingredients except except fish into a medium saucepan. Bring liquid to 160 degrees, using a thermometer to check temperature. When ready, gently slide the fish into the pan. Simmer until fish turns opaque. Remove from liquid with a fish spatula, top with compound butter.
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper. Use to top fish, chicken or vegetables. Can be made a day ahead, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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