Summer has arrived with a bang, seemingly overnight. There are “excessive heat warnings” all over Southern California this weekend with temperatures expected in the 100-110 range. If you’re still willing to cook, I’ve got the perfect meal for a warm night or a Sunday brunch served al fresco. And if you’ve never poached fish before, it’s an easy method which every cook should have in their repertoire, so now is the time to learn!
Poaching fish and shellfish is one of the lightest, healthiest ways to cook seafood and it showcases the true flavor of the fish because the cooking method is gentle and lets the flavor of the fish shine. Traditionally, poaching is done in a court bouillon, a French culinary term which translates to “short boil”, and refers to a lightly flavored broth traditionally used to poach fish, shellfish and even vegetables. Court bouillon usually contains citrus and vegetables and is brought to a brief boil before being strained to use for cooking.
Some notes about poaching fish and shellfish:
- If your salmon comes with the skin on, leave it on while poaching, the skin will help keep the fillet together while cooking and when removing it from the court bouillon. Once the fish is cooked the skin will easily peel off.
- Take care not to overcook the salmon or it will become dry and lose flavor. If you see little globs of white coming out of the fish after you cook it, this is fish albumin (a protein similar to egg white) and while you’ll always see a little of it, a lot means the fish has reached over 140 degrees and the protein has started to coagulate. Don’t be afraid to leave the fish a little translucent (medium) and know that it will continue cooking for a minute or two after it comes out of the court bouillon.
- Serve the salmon warm, right after poaching, or chilled. If you are going to chill it, make sure it is covered so that it doesn’t dry out in the refrigerator.
- Poaching shellfish like shrimp is just as simple. If you have a wire mesh basket or a strainer which fits into a larger pot, use that to dunk the shrimp in the court bouillon. Take care not to over cook the shrimp; cook until just opaque and pink and then cool in the refrigerator on a sheet tray.
Right now is wild salmon season. If you can find it, buy it, especially salmon that’s been sustainably fished from Alaska or anywhere on the Northern Pacific coast. Look for indicators like “wild” and “troll caught”. King (the largest salmon with the highest fat content which means flavor), Sockeye (bright dark orange in color) and Coho (also known as Silver salmon) are all available now.