Thursday, October 4, 2012

Back to Basics, Part 6: Poaching

And now for our final of six fundamental cooking methods: poaching.

I think this is probably the one folks are least familiar with, and I’m sure there are more than a few of you who do not think it sounds appetizing! But poaching really is a fun technique to know that is relatively easy and can result in some delicious meals.

There are two different types of poaching: shallow and deep. Both are excellent methods to use with naturally tender items (particularly fish but chicken works well too) and utilize flavorful liquids that include some type of acid for cooking. When shallow poaching, your product is only covered about half way with liquid and your pot is covered with either a lid or parchment paper, so you are cooking your food through a combination of liquid and steam. Your sauce is commonly made using the liquid remaining after cooking, known as a “cuisson”. When deep poaching, your product is completely submerged in a liquid known as a “court bouillon” at a temperature between 160°F/71°C to 185°F/85°C (LOWER than simmering) and your sauce is generally made separately.

Paupiettes of Sole with Vin Blanc Sauce
First, choose your fish or other meat to poach. Shallow poaching works best for your most tender filets of fish such as sole or flounder, whereas for deep poaching you can use something a little more bold like salmon or heartier like halibut. Now it’s time to prepare your “flavorful liquid”. If you’ve decided to shallow poach, part of your flavor is going to come from butter, shallots and herbs that will form a “bed” on the bottom of your pan. To shallow poach your food, you are going to use vegetable stock or fish stock (or a mix of half chicken stock and half water), along with white wine. (Use a 2 parts stock to 1 part wine ratio. You should have a total of about 6 oz of liquid for every portion of fish you’re poaching.) If you’ve decided to deep poach, your court bouillon will be a little more involved but incredibly delicious. If you’re making a gallon of court bouillon (a minimum to cook about four portions of poached fish) use 5 quarts of water and 1 Cup of white wine vinegar. To this you can add any combination of aromatics, the most traditional being carrots (~1/2 lb), onions (~3/4 lb.), thyme, bay leaves and peppercorn. You could also use any of the following to flavor your liquid: parsnips, leeks, mushroom stems, garlic, fennel, shallots, ginger, chiles, etc. Combine all your ingredients and allow to simmer for about an hour. Strain out all of your aromatics and you’re ready to poach!

Here are the two methods, step by step:

Shallow Poach
1. Preheat your oven to 300°F/145°C. Season your fish with salt and pepper. If desired, roll into “paupiettes” which is simply rolling into a cylinder, “skin side inside, tail to head”.
2. Generously butter a straight sided sauté pan. Put minced shallots and parsley (or other desired herbs) in the bottom of the pan to form a “bed” and place fish on herb stems. Add your wine and your stock. (For four portions of fish, this will equal about 3 Cups total liquid.)
3. Place your sauté pan on the stove over medium heat. Bring liquid to just below a simmer and place lid (or buttered parchment paper) over your pan. Transfer pan to hot oven and cook until fish is opaque and has an internal temperature of about 145°F/62°C.
4. Remove your poached items and keep warm on a plate covered with tinfoil. To make your sauce, reduce your “cuisson” by half, then add seasoned chicken stock thickened with pale roux (known as “velouté”—way more info available on my blog!) and heavy cream, if desired. Reduce this again by half, seasoning if needed with pepper and salt. Add herbs at the end if desired and serve over your poached fish.

Deep Poach
1. Prepare your court bouillon in a stock pot or rondeau as described above. This is the hardest part!
2. Reheat your court bouillon on the stove over medium high heat until it is at the correct temperature. It should be at about 185°F/85°C before adding your fish. Maintain the temperature throughout the cooking time between 160°F/71°C to 185°F/85°C.
3. Add your fish to your court bouillon and cook until it is completely opaque. Fish should reach an internal temperature of about 145°F/62°C and chicken should reach an internal temperature of about 165°F/73°C.
4. Remove fish from court bouillon, pat dry on paper towels, and serve with your desired sauce.

Another very popular item that people love to poach is the egg. Fortunately, poaching an egg is not a terribly involved process. First, bring at least a gallon of water 185°F/85°C. While waiting for your water to heat up, break your eggs individually into small ramekins or teacups. This is a very important step to ensure the yolk of your poached egg is surrounded by cooked egg white, so don’t skip it! When your water is ready, add about ½ oz of salt and 2 fl oz of vinegar (per gallon of water) and stir. Slowly and easily pour one egg at a time into the water. Let the eggs float to the bottom and don’t bother them for one minute. As the eggs start floating back to the top, you can gently make sure they are separated from each other. Cook the eggs for about 2-3 more minutes (3-4 minutes total). Use a slotted spoon to gently lift each egg from the water individually. Blot the spoon with the egg in it on a paper towel. At this point, you can use the edge of the spoon against the paper towel to “cut” the jagged edges of cooked egg white for a beautiful presentation. Serve poached eggs immediately.