Wild Salmon Poached with Lemon and Herbs


Because fish is so delicate, it's well-suited to gentle cooking methods like poaching. Other cooking methods like grilling or roasting can make fish dry, but slowly simmering it in a flavorful liquid produces tender, juicy, succulent results every time.

Poached fish is very versatile. You can serve it straight from the poaching liquid with lemon yogurt sauce. You can add it to fish chowder or use it to make salmon burgers. Or you can chill it and serve it atop a salad.

Poaching is an essential cooking technique easy enough for beginner cooks to master. Traditionally, fish is poached in a liquid called "court bouillon" composed of equal parts water and white wine with the addition of something acidic like lemon or vinegar and some aromatic vegetables, herbs, and/or spices.

This recipe calls for salmon but you can poach other kids of fish and seafood. Shrimp works well, as do large pieces of flaky fillets like cod or halibut. In this recipe I used salmon fillets about one inch thick. Thicker fillets will require a longer cooking time.

The other ingredients for this recipe include dry white wine, lemon, shallot, bay leaves, dill, thyme, and peppercorns, but the options are endless so feel free to make substitutions. You don't need an expensive wine, just one that's good enough to drink. I used Harthill Farms Pinot Grigio ($4.99 at Whole Foods Wine Store). If you don't have a drinkable wine or prefer not to use it, you can substitute fish stock or bone broth.

To change up the aromatics you could use ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves for a Thai-inspired court bouillon. Or scallion, fennel, and tomato for an Italian twist. Or dried allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, thyme, onion, and scotch bonnet peppers for a Jamaican jerk-inspired poaching liquid. You get the idea.

For about a pound and a quarter of fish I used 4 cups of liquid. If you're poaching more or less fish you can use more or less liquid, equal parts of water and wine, just enough to cover the fish. Using too much liquid can dilute the flavor.  

2 cups water
2 cups Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 organic lemon, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
12 peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Fronds from one dill stem (5 or 6 leafy tops)
2 wild salmon fillets at room temperature, 1 inch thick, about 1¼ pounds

If you plan to serve the fish as soon as it's cooked, cut it into individual portions.

Add all of the ingredients except the salmon to a shallow pan large enough to hold the fish.

Over low heat, bring the mixture to a gentle boil and simmer slowly for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and make any adjustments. The poaching liquid should be delicious.

Add the fish, return to a gentle boil, and simmer slowly for 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and allow to finish cooking with residual heat for 5 more minutes.

Carefully transfer the fish to a plate and serve immediately or allow to cool and transfer to the fridge until ready to eat.

Strain the poaching liquid and discard the solids. Save the broth for a seafood soup or reduce it a bit and whisk in some butter to make a sauce to serve with the fish.