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Poached Fish

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If you like the simple flavors of fresh fish, poaching is an easy way to emphasize the taste of good fish. Poaching fish is more of a technique than a specific recipes with the seasonings of the poaching liquid changing with what is on hand and the fish changing depending on what's fresh at the fishmonger. Quickly, but gently, cooking the fish in a flavorful liquid is the key to preserving the fish's natural flavor resulting in a lightly seasoned, healthy meal that's the perfect excuse to open a nice bottle of white wine.

When talking about fish, the term poaching is used most often for fish cooked in a simmering liquid where the liquid is intended to be discarded. Braising or stewing is often used when the liquid is to be served with the fish.

The water used when poaching fish should be "high quality". If you don't drink your tap water, then don't use it for this recipe. Use water that you would be willing to drink (and, hopefully, prefer the taste of) for this recipe because those off flavors will present themselves in the final dish if you use funny tasting water. Also, we're not going to boil the fish - we're going to cook it in near boiling temperature water. Boiling will cause unnecessary violent currents through the cooking liquid which will end up tearing apart the fish into little pieces instead of gently cooking them through. The poaching liquid can be used repeatedly for multiple batches of fish or other foods you may want to poach in a flavorful liquid - just bring it back to a boil between uses. (Use the poaching liquid all in one session and then discard... please don't keep a pot of poaching liquid sitting on your stove waiting for the next poached fish meal.)

For this recipe, prepare the poaching liquid by filling a saute pan with enough water to measure a depth of about one inch (2.5 cm). Throw in a couple cloves of garlic, about 30 to 40 whole peppercorns, 4 sprigs of parsley, 1/2 cup dry white wine, and a bay leaf. Covering the saucepan, allow the mixture to come to a full boil and turn the heat down to low. We want to let the flavors of the spices infuse into the liquid, so let it sit on low for about twenty minutes. Feel free to use this time to prepare any side dishes you may want, like a rice pilaf.

I find that tilapia, red snapper, and bass seem to work well when poached. But it greatly depends on the individual: the flavors of catfish may be pleasant to many, but I can't stand it when poached. Each fish has it's own flavors, so I encourage trying them out (in a restaurant or when they go on sale) and figuring out what flavors agree with your palate. Poaching is a great way to prepare fish for tasting, because the flavor of the fish is not overwhelmed by sauces or marinades.

Bring the poaching liquid back up to a full rolling boil, then turn the heat back to the lowest setting. When the boil settles down, place the fillets into the liquid with a thin, flat, slotted spatula and cover for five minutes. (Filets thicker than 1 cm may need an additional minute or two.)

Remove the filets from the liquid and serve with some kosher salt sprinkled on top, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a few drained capers, and a couple slices of lemon on the side.

Poached Fish
Poaching liquid
Drinking waterpour in large pan until 1 in. (2.5 cm.) deepaddbring to boilreduce heat to lowsimmer 20 min.
1/2 cup dry white wine
30-40 black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
4 parsley sprigs

Poached Tilapia (serves 4)
Poaching liquidboilreduce heat to lowcover & poach 5 min.discard
8 3 oz. (85 g) tilapia filetsplate & garnish
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. (9 g) capers
1 lemoncut into 8 wedges
Copyright 2005 Michael Chu

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Written by Michael Chu
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33 comments on Poached Fish:(Post a comment)

On October 14, 2005 at 06:35 AM, Dan Wright (guest) said...
Have you seen Alton Brown's show "Mission: Poachable"?

He suggests poaching in a electric skillet. That way you can set the skillet to your desired final temperature and not risk overcooking the fish.

It makes sense. My grandmother taught me to make english toffee the same way. Letting the skillet manage the temperature for you.


PS Try poaching the catfish in milk.

On October 14, 2005 at 06:35 AM, biz (guest) said...
I love your blog!
The font is teeny tiny though in every entry but the current? I never had the problem before...

On October 14, 2005 at 06:36 AM, Blue (guest) said...
Great blog. I love the fish recipe. Looks gorgeous! I will definitely try it!

On October 14, 2005 at 06:36 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I opened up your column from my My Yahoo page, which is in Firefox. For curiosity, I pasted the link into IE to see what the comments were about. The text was actually bigger, but I could change size with my keyboard, so I don't know if it came in the standard size or not. What I found strange, however, was that the subject body was way down below the headings and all the links on the right. It looked like an empty column at first until I scrolled down. I even changed subjects, and they were all the same.

On October 14, 2005 at 06:37 AM, Michael Chu said...
re: IE bugs and CfE

Due to a bug in how IE handles CSS, if the default font size in IE is set larger than Medium (View-Text Size-Medium), then the center page expands past the absolute size set in the stylesheet. This results in the main section being pushed down below the sidebar.

I'll try to fix this in the near future. Unfortunately, I've been quite busy and barely able to write up articles. When I do get some free time I'll start prototyping a new website design.

On October 14, 2005 at 06:37 AM, Stefan (guest) said...

first off, i love your blog, it really makes a greate and even more makes me hungry every time.

Anyway, about your IE formatting problem, have you had a look at the IE7 Fix by Dean Edwards? It fixed most of my IE problems.

once again keep up the terrific work,
PS: even though it's called IE7 it has absolutely nothing to do with M$ ;)

On October 14, 2005 at 06:38 AM, allan (guest) said...
For the adventurous, take some salmon and a fairly dense white fish like bass, cut them into thin strips, and weave them together like a kid's craft project. Poaching keeps the contrast and tidies up up the weave as the flesh swells slightly. It's a little time-intensive, but gorgeous.

Ask for the thinnest, most uniform fillets from your fishmonger.

On October 14, 2005 at 06:38 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I've used coconut milk as a poaching liquid as well, though it works better with a different set of spices (more thai/asian) and also with stronger flavored fish.

On October 14, 2005 at 06:39 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Great recipe! Want more tasty recipes? Visit this site:

On October 14, 2005 at 06:39 AM, Michael Chu said...
re: Fish are friends

Hey, there are no recipes on PETA's websites... well, I managed to find a pizza sauce recipe, but not any other recipes...

On October 14, 2005 at 07:34 PM, Charissa (guest) said...
Michael, your site is amazing. I discovered it a few days ago thanks to a tip from ReadyMade magazine and am hooked. Thanks for the simple and practical recipes and thoughts. And the flowchart summaries - lovely and logical. Keep up the great work - I look forward to whatever new material you have in store!

On December 03, 2005 at 11:49 PM, kskerr said...
I tried poaching a salmon fillet, it turned out great! Also tried it with another kind, not sure what, and it came out rather watery. The fillets were frozen for awhile and seemed quite watery before cooking too so they were probably not the best for poaching. Normally my mom bakes fish fillets, my dad usually finds it overcooked and dry when she does, I think poaching is the answer to that problem. Of course the watery fish were what I made when I was visiting them and the great salmon was made at home. Next time I visit them I think I'll buy some fresh fillets and make sure they are good quality and try it again :).

On March 02, 2006 at 10:20 PM, Tim Culhane (guest) said...
Subject: Poached fish
I'm wondering if the poaching liquid - water, milk, evaporated milk- might be used as the basis of a seafood soup.

I just found your site and plan to visit it frequently.

Thank you.

Tim Culhane

On March 03, 2006 at 06:26 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Poached fish
Tim Culhane wrote:
I'm wondering if the poaching liquid - water, milk, evaporated milk- might be used as the basis of a seafood soup.

Yes, I suppose it can, but there's usually so much liquid that it doesn't pick up too much seafood flavor during the poach. A bit of experimenting may be in order. :)

On March 06, 2006 at 03:06 AM, mabel (guest) said...
Subject: seafood soup
especially since your other leading article references the santa cruz chowder-off! looking forward to a lighter seafood soup entry =)

On January 25, 2007 at 06:17 PM, paul crawford (guest) said...
Subject: cooking fish/seafood
cooking frozen scallops and haddock lately, the liquid in the pan is very blue, I have never noticed this before?

On February 01, 2007 at 10:21 AM, John S (guest) said...
Subject: poaching fish or chicken
question - Im interested in using V8 veggie juice for poaching fish and/or chicken...anyone have any experience with that - does the juice hold up or change flavors....I was concerned about wasting some good fish!! Thank you for your advice in advance.....-good cooking and better tasting to all...John

On February 27, 2007 at 02:42 AM, SH (guest) said...
Subject: Awesome
I have been tracking this site for more than two years now, and I must say 'Well Done' to Michael for this wonderful site. The flowchart presentation is what I awe for, it is innovative, simple and sure shot.

And, I also liked your way of asking the confirmation code for posting this :)

On September 10, 2007 at 03:12 AM, IrishChef (guest) said...
Subject: Other poaching liquids
In response to the question about poaching in V8 juice, I've poached fish in the following (I've also poached chicken and pork in similar liquids):

V8 juice

tomato juice (also tomato sauce/puree/paste thinned appropriately to juice consistency)

various tropical citrus juice blends (i.e. pineapple/orange, pineapple/mango, orange/strawberry/banana) - these are great with a tropical salsa - pineapple-jalapeno for instance- and served with a coconut rice.

Tilting towards the Sandra Lee end of the spectrum, I've also poached fish in canned soups - tomato, veggie, and even manhattan clam chowder (I've even brightened up the soup/fish combo with some fresh herbs and veggies and served it as a stew).

The bottom line is if you enjoy the flavor of the poaching liquid, you'll enjoy the flavor of the poached fish.

Use your head; trust your palate (or is that palette ?).

On February 15, 2008 at 10:42 PM, kaosborne said...
Subject: Poaching is now my friend!
Iíve tried fish grilled, baked and fried. I was never able to create the texture I desired with those methods. Plus, the fish almost always turned out either a little dry or undercooked. :angry: Today I thought I would try poaching it. I purchased some orange roughy :) , came home, sat down, and looked for a recipe online. The first one I found was yours. How wonderful! I have never poached before and all of your instructions, hints, and pictures were magnificent! And after reading all of the otherís comments, I canít wait to try my own variations. :lol: Iíll be back!

On March 06, 2008 at 01:16 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I make a beautiful fish salad with poached fish. After poaching, mash it up with mayo, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put it in a tray, shape into a fish... decorate with sliced cucumber scales and a pepper eye. Surround with chiffoned lettuce leaves. Looks pretty and tastes fabulous.

On March 14, 2008 at 07:54 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Poached Fish
We love poached Salmon, usually takes about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Last time I poached it in a miso soup. Came out real nice. Serve with a simple Remoulade sauce.

On March 25, 2008 at 09:55 AM, rich.bronson said...
Anonymous wrote:
I make a beautiful fish salad with poached fish. After poaching, mash it up with mayo, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put it in a tray, shape into a fish... decorate with sliced cucumber scales and a pepper eye. Surround with chiffoned lettuce leaves. Looks pretty and tastes fabulous.

This makes a fantastic meal. I made this with lite mayo two Fridays ago for my family and they loved it. It's one of those things I think I would like to make every week or at least every other week.

On March 30, 2008 at 07:14 PM, kevinthenerd (guest) said...
I just tried this on three filets of tilapia, and I gotta say it's a very good way to cook it. It seems to yield more consistent results than when I blacken them in my cast iron pan; it doesn't require nearly as much fine tuning in the cooking time. I have to admit, my third try was almost perfect.

The temperature of the water tends to stay very consistent (at or near the saturation temperature), and I believe this has a lot to do with the success rate.

On January 06, 2009 at 09:57 PM, Nibbles of Tidbits (guest) said...
Subject: I prepared a variation of your recipe on my Food Blog
Hello. Thanks for the excellent information and clear layout of all. Your recipe was helpful to the preparation of my dinner :) I wrote about it on my food blog, Nibbles of Tidbits. And I added a link back to your site. Here it is -

Ciao, Shelly Borrell

On March 26, 2009 at 07:47 PM, melissajarquin (guest) said...
Subject: thanks for a great dinner!
I just poached fish for the first time and followed your recipe. Thanks for a wonderful dinner! The fish salad recipe and asian style recipes above all sound fantastic. Thanks for your post!

On August 29, 2009 at 08:23 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: poach then cake
You can poach this fish then cool it and flake it and use it as you would crab in a sea cake. Very easy and tasty

On March 21, 2010 at 03:48 PM, Angela (guest) said...
Subject: Poached Tilapia
After tilapia has been poached and cooled, I separate it into small pieces and sprinkle with salt, pepper, diced Italian parsley and some olive oil. Refrigerate and serve as a salad.

On December 09, 2010 at 11:53 AM, Golden Key (guest) said...
Subject: Poached Tilapia
My husband sautees tilapia each morning for his breakfast. It's been a problem cause he doesn't always regulate the temp of the olive oil. We found your poached fish recipe this morning. No white peppercorns in the house, so we used whole black instead, and we only had dry parsley. I added some italian seasoning at his request. Much to our surprise, the tilapia came out absolutley delicious, delicate and flavorful.... Thanks so much for posting this recipe on line! To make it easier for my husband I strained the broth then reserved it - in the fridge for tomorrow's fish. I imagine if we just make the broth up every few days, this will streamline his daily fish breakfast prep - alleluia! :)

On December 11, 2010 at 01:38 AM, Mike Eaton (guest) said...
Subject: Can the poaching liquid be the basis of a good soup?
This question was posed here March 3, 2006, and the responses were tepid.

May I suggest Billi Bi. Loosely quoting from the Craig Claiborne International Cookbook, this may be the most delicious soup ever concocted.

It is an easy cream soup based on the liquor resulting from poaching mussels.

Mike Eaton

On July 10, 2011 at 09:39 PM, guest (guest) said...
Thank you! I uasually end up cross referrencing several sites for the same recipe, in my attepmts to figure out the science of cooking something without bumbling it up.

On November 09, 2011 at 02:35 AM, Tony (guest) said...
Subject: Water choice
Taking your advice I tried poaching it in Perrier. It tasted awful ;)

On January 12, 2014 at 01:08 PM, seanconcannon (guest) said...
Subject: Easy poached fish recipe
I love the poached fish recipe in How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I am going to give this one a try.

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