Poached Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce
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.
If you’re looking for ideas on what to serve with the salmon, how about some grilled asparagus or one of these salads?
Poached Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce
For the court bouillon:
- 3 quarts water
- 1 each lemon
- 1 each lime
- 1 each orange
- 1 each carrot
- ½ each onion
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 cup white wine
- 3 each bay leaves
- 10 each whole peppercorns
- ¼ bunch fresh parsley
1 ½ -2 pounds sustainably sourced salmon, whole or cut into fillets
For the Creamy Dill Sauce
- 1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoons lemon juice
To make the Court Bouillon:
- Place the water in a large stock pot. Cut the citrus in half and squeeze the juice into the water and then add the cut citrus to the water. Cut the carrot, onion and celery into chunks and place in the water. Add the white wine, bay leaves, peppercorns and parsley to the water and bring it all to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.
To poach the salmon:
- Before poaching fish or shellfish, strain the liquid into a large deep sauce pan, deep enough to cover the fish fillets by at least ¼ inch. Bring to a very gentle simmer.
- Place the fish in the pan skin side down. Gently cook the fish in the liquid for 8-10 minutes or until the fish is cooked to desired doneness (see note below). Serve with Creamy Dill Sauce.
To make the Creamy Dill Sauce:
- Chop the dill and combine with the yogurt, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- To keep the recipe light, I used nonfat Greek yogurt. Its texture is as creamy as full fat sour cream, but has a tangy taste and far fewer calories. For a decadent option, replace the non-fat yogurt with full fat Greek yogurt, sour cream or even mascarpone cream.
I often forget about poaching, and I do love how fish (as well as chicken) turns out by using this method. I will have to try it with your dill sauce – sounds perfect for these hot summer nights we are having.
Thanks Denise! I never seem to to think about poaching chicken…great reminder!
I usually bake Salmon, but with this heatwave I’m not getting anywhere near my oven. I love this idea of poaching it, especially with court bouillon, which I’d never heard of before. You always teach me something new!
Thanks Myra! Yes, poaching is a great technique to learn, especially for fish or other seafood. When I was a chef, we always had a giant pot of it in the back for cooking lobsters and shrimp!
quick question – I’m looking for the salmon to be medium-rare … what length of time should it be gently poached to achieve that?
It’s difficult to say because it depends on the the thickness of the salmon. I would say, it’s it’s about an inch think, maybe 6-7 minutes.
I’m using the center cut about 7 filets about the size of the piece used in the above pic — I’m thinking then about 9 minutes taking into account the number of pieces … am I thinking correctly?
I did a dry run last night with your recipe for one filet – it was fantastic —
I think that should work. You could always take it out and check (pull the flakes apart slightly at the thickest part to see inside).
how much time in advance can I use this method? Can i poach the salmon the day before and refrigerate?
Yes, you can poach the day before and refrigerate, no problem. Keep in mind, when cold, the texture of the fish will be much firmer.
This is just the best time of year, here in Seattle. Fresh salmon everywhere. I like to grill, but poaching protects the flavor. The Greek yogurt sauce is a winner. I’ll be using that one.
Thanks Mark! I like that sauce too!
I didn’t actually cook the salmon, I put it in the simmering broth, turned off the heat then spooned the broth over the salmon at bit before putting the lid on it and removed from the heat. I left the lid on for no more than 5 minutes. It was perfectly poached. This broth was fantastic really enhanced the flavor of the salmon. I didn’t have parsley but didn’t need it. Yummy.
Just made this for Mother’s Day brunch to balance all the sweet carb brunch food. Made it early and served it chilled – excellent. Make sure not to overcook. I added some lemon zest to the yogurt sauce – terrific. I have also made this before with ricotta cheese as the base for the creamy dill sauce instead of yogurt – both are good.
Love your photos and the recipe lay out.
Thank you! I really appreciate it when people let me know when they like one of my recipes. Glad you enjoyed it.
The citrus is a glorious touch. This method is a keeper!