A reader writes for some help “with the high heat and doldrums” and suggests tips on poaching, especially fish and chicken. “Cooking this way seems like a good bet to have some protein ready in the chill chest (for) salads, sandwiches, wraps,” she adds.
To poach food is a splendid work-around against summer’s heat. Whether atop the stove or in the oven, poaching rarely raises the same heat as roasting, baking or, say, setting a pot to boil for pasta. Its heat never reaches a true boil, or 212-plus degrees, and is always in the range of 150-180 degrees.
The only methods that beat it, in the temperature way, are grilling outside or zapping in the microwave, two techniques that many of us cannot or prefer not to employ.
Poaching also brings forth our better angels. It is a gentle way to cook and is very forgiving. Its precision is the obverse of baking’s, well-suited for any season of dispiriting heat. Poaching just says, “Kick back and relax.”
The French court bouillon (“briefly boiled broth”), water flavored with white wine and the trinity of carrot, onion and celery, as well as herbs such as thyme or rosemary, is the classic poaching medium for most fish, but also cutlets or paillards of pork, chicken and turkey and — a delicious turn not often considered — various vegetables (leek, carrot, parsnip, waxy potato, turnip and rutabaga, to name just a few). Court bouillon also moistens and flavors dishes served to the side of the food once poached, such as bread, rice, polenta, pasta or potatoes.
But you can poach in other liquids than water, such as broths or stocks, or in water that has been substantially altered by the addition of a healthy portion of sugar or sweet wine. You also can poach in just wine, or in olive (or other vegetable) oil.
Any poaching liquid can capture the flavors and aromas of other countries, in addition to the classic French tastes of a court bouillon. For Morocco or Ethiopia, as an example, add a few dried chiles, a couple of cloves of garlic, some fenugreek seeds, and some whole allspice if you have it. Italy comes by way of fresh oregano, small sweet peppers or pepperoncini, and a couple of dried tomatoes. Greece, with the addition of lemon, capers, mint and oregano.
Such flavored liquids or oils poach and make exotic both savory foods such as the proteins of fish or fowl, but also, with the addition of sugar or sweet wine, sweet or dessert foods such as poached fruits, fresh or dried. For instance, a compote of dried fruits flavored and scented in the Moroccan way (with large golden raisins and dried apricots in leading roles) is a terrific way to end a meal.
Swordfish poached in olive oil
- 4 swordfish steaks or other suitable cuts (see note), each 1-inch thick
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4-6 cups good quality but modestly priced pure olive oil
- Straight-sided, ovenproof pan large enough to hold all fish in 1 layer
Bring fish to room temperature if removing from refrigerator, at least 1 hour ahead. Heat oven to 225 degrees. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper.
Pour oil into pan and heat over stovetop burner until oil is 130 degrees (use instant-read thermometer). Slip pieces of fish into pan and immediately place in oven. Let poach for 25 minutes. To serve: remove fish with slotted spatula or spoon.
Cook’s note: Any firm-fleshed fish fillet will work: in addition to swordfish, salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi, pollock, cod, grouper, haddock, halibut, some bass, Arctic char, and the like. Also, you may reuse the olive oil for several more poachings of fish, if strained of any solids and kept refrigerated.
Poached and glazed pears
- 4 pears (Bosc, Anjou, Bartlett, or other), peeled just before cooking, stems intact
- 2 cups red wine (see note)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice and zest from 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 12 whole black peppercorns
In a steep pot, mix together the wine, water, sugar, lemon juice and zest, the vanilla and the cinnamon, cardamom and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and add the pears, reducing the heat to a bare simmer. Cover the pears with a circle of parchment paper and, if you have either, a “spider” or perforated skimmer that fits into the pan and can stand the simmer. You want the pears to be submerged completely so that they take on the color of the poaching liquid.
Cook for 30 minutes. When the blade of a thin knife enters the fruit easily, remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Carefully remove the pears from the pan, strain the spices and flavorings from the liquid and reduce the liquid to a syrup (about 1 cup). Serve the pears at room temperature or cool, as you wish, glazed with the syrup.
Note: Prepare this without wine or other alcohol by using 100 percent tart cherry juice, in the same measure, but reduce the amount of sugar to 3/4 cup.
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