Poached foods are partially or fully immersed in not-quite simmering liquid. This technique is ideal for cooking fish, eggs, chicken, fruits such as pears, and other delicate foods that need careful treatment to prevent them from breaking apart or overcooking. Foods are usually poached whole, such as whole chickens or fish, or in large pieces, such as chicken breasts and fish fillets.
Always keep the heat very low when poaching. Even small bubbles can tighten protein fibers, causing the food to toughen. Poached foods are usually removed from the cooking liquid as soon as they are done to avoid overcooking. Sturdy items, like whole chickens or pears, can remain in the cooking liquid, which can further flavor the food.
The poaching liquid can be water to which fresh herbs, spices and aromatics are added, or it can be a flavorful broth or wine for cooking savory dishes, or a flavored syrup for poaching fruits for dessert. Vegetables and eggs are usually poached in salted water or water with a little vinegar. Fish is commonly poached in a court bouillon, a briefly cooked broth made from water, aromatic vegetables, vinegar or lemon juice, and herbs and spices.
Poaching is an excellent addition to a healthful cooking repertoire because it calls for no additional fat and leaves even lean foods moist and juicy. Although some foods’ nutrients leach out into the poaching liquid, the liquid can often be reduced and used to make a sauce for the finished dish.
Select a pan not much larger than the food to be poached. The poaching liquid should be able to flow easily around all sides of the food.
Use water, stock, wine, sugar syrup or other liquid that complements the food you are poaching. If appropriate, season it with herbs, spices, aromatics (carrot, celery, onion) or other flavor enhancers.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low so that it barely simmers and adjust the heat so that the surface of the liquid moves only slightly. Monitor the heat closely; only a few small bubbles should break the surface. For an accurate test, insert an instant-read thermometer into the liquid; it should read 160° to 180°F.
To keep the food submerged in the poaching liquid, and to aid in even cooking, place a small heatproof plate over the food while it cooks.
Follow the cooking times given in your recipe. Use the tip of a small knife to check that the food is poached until tender.
If directed in the recipe, strain the poaching liquid and reduce it in a clean saucepan to make a companion sauce.
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