Poaching food or to poach is to cook a food by placing it in a pot of seasoned simmering liquid.
Poaching is a type of moist-heat cooking technique that involves cooking by submerging food in a liquid, such as water, milk, stock or wine.
Poaching is differentiated from the other “moist heat” cooking methods, such as simmering and boiling, in that it uses a relatively low temperature about 71–82°C or 160–180°F.
This temperature range makes it particularly suitable for delicate food, such as eggs, poultry, fish and fruit, which might easily fall apart or dry out using other cooking methods.
Poaching is often considered a healthy method of cooking because it does not use fat to cook or flavour the food.
Foods to poach
Poaching is best for very delicate foods, such as eggs, fish, white meat chicken and fruit. Some vegetables may also be poached.
Skinless chicken breasts are perfect for this cooking method.
You can also use bone-in chicken breasts or even thighs or drumsticks, just make sure you remove the skin, which can make the liquid too greasy.
Sturdier vegetables such as asparagus spears, carrots, sweet potato and potatoes all work well with poaching.
Fruits with body, like stone fruit, pears, and apples, are prime choices for wine poaching with honey, peppercorns.
Delicate seafood of all kinds shine when poached. Cod, salmon, shrimp, all are excellent choices.
There are three main types of poaching which are shallow poaching, butter poaching and deep poaching.
Poaching uses gentle heat at 71 to 82ºC (160 to 180°F) to cook the food, even lower than a simmer at 85 to 96ºC (185 to 205°F).
With shallow poaching, you add enough liquid to cover the item to be poached by about two-thirds.
And don’t forget to cover the pan so that steam will cook the part of the item that isn’t covered.
The item to be shallow-poached should generally be portion-sized or smaller to make sure it cooks through quickly.
Shallow poaching is especially good for fish fillets and boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
Sometimes the poaching liquid is cooked down to reduce it and then enriched with butter to make beurre blanc, a rich sauce used to coat the poached food.
Another method, butter poaching, combines butter with the liquid.
This tends to be used more for for cooking fish and seafood.
The butter must first be emulsified by boiling it with the liquid (meaning the two are mixed together so they won’t separate).
The result is called a beurre monte, which is then used for poaching at lower temperatures that, again, never break into a boil.
With deep poaching, the food is completely immersed in barely simmering, well seasoned liquid.
The entire ingredient needs to be covered and sometimes requires a cover of parchment paper to keep it from bobbing above the liquid.
Make sure you allow enough room in the pot for liquid to expand.
Types of poaching liquids
Water will most likely make up the bulk of your poaching liquid, but if you can, add something else for some subtle flavour.
You can use milk or coconut milk to poach chicken or fish.
Chicken stock, vegetable, or fish stock are all good choices, depending on what you poach, as long as you dilute them somewhat.
Perfect for poaching, broths are just a lighter version of stock.
Traditional ingredients like bay leaves, herbs, celery, garlic and spices.
These can be added to the poaching liquid to enhance the flavour of what you’re cooking.
Wine bourbon or port can be a beautiful way to poach fruit, and who wouldn’t appreciate a white wine poached halibut?
Fish and seafood are traditionally poached in a liquid called court bouillon.
This consists of an acid (wine, lemon juice) and aromatics (bouquet garni and mirepoix).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Poaching Food
Poaching is advantageous in the sense that it is one of the healthiest cooking methods.
As it does not require fats and it also preserves maximum nutrition in the food being poached.
Poached dishes are moist, retain the original flavour of the main ingredient, and are quick and easy to prepare.
However, the disadvantage is that poaching requires a certain level of skill, as the temperature and duration of cooking are very important.
Also, poached dishes are often considered bland, as compared to dishes prepared by other methods of cooking such as frying and roasting.
This can sometimes be resolved, depending on your poaching liquid.
Additional Poaching Food Tips
- Cook gently.
This will give the most tender results.
- Arrange food in a single layer in the pot.
This will ensure even cooking.
- Accompanying sauces.
These can be made from well flavoured simmering liquid.
- To tell when simmering liquid is ready.
Look for tiny bubbles that begin to rise slowly to the surface, bursting occasionally.