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How to Poach Salmon

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How to Poach Salmon

One of the tastiest ways to prepare salmon is also one of the easiest.

Poached salmon may seem like the kind of fancy dish you’d save for a special occasion, but in reality it’s so simple that you can add it to your midweek menu plan.

Poaching refers to the gentle cooking of fish and other tender foods in liquid over low heat. This method produces a succulent, silky texture and retains salmon’s abundant nutrients: protein, omega-3 fatty acids (which have been linked to improved heart health and brain function), vitamin B12, and the antioxidant selenium.

The poaching broth, called court bouillon, imparts a delicate flavor. It’s made with aromatic vegetables and an acidic ingredient, such as vinegar, wine, or lemon juice.

This recipe uses a cold-start method, which involves bringing the broth and fish up to temperature together. This takes less time than the traditional approach — preparing a heated court bouillon first — yet it still confers an aromatic and acidic quality.

The basic poaching technique, four topping options, and three side-dish recipes that follow offer a template for several healthy meals featuring a variety of flavor profiles.

Poached Salmon

Poached SalmonPhotography by Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling by Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling by Paul Jackman

Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes

Ingredients

  •  4 cups cold water
  • Juice of 1 lemon (approximately 2 tbs.)
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into 3-in. chunks
  • 1 carrot, cut into 3-in. chunks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 4 6-oz. salmon fillets, skin and pin bones removed

Directions

  • In a 3-quart sauté pan or another low-sided pot just large enough to hold the salmon in a single layer, combine water with lemon juice, onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, peppercorns, parsley, and a large pinch of salt.
  • Add the salmon to the poaching liquid. The water should just cover the salmon. Turn the burner to medium, and heat until the poaching liquid just starts to quiver. (Don’t bring the liquid to a full boil. The ideal poaching temperature is between 160 and 180 degrees F; use an instant-read kitchen thermometer to verify.)
  • Cover and cook the salmon for about 10 more minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the salmon registers 115 degrees F.
  • Transfer the salmon to a plate or platter and allow to rest for five minutes. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled, with topping of choice, such as Mint Chimichurri Sauce.

Tip: The fish will continue to cook when it’s out of the poaching liquid. Factoring in five minutes of carryover cooking is the key to moist fish.

Tip: Choose wild-caught salmon whenever possible to avoid the pollutants and antibiotics often found in farm-raised salmon (including “Atlantic salmon”).

For the Mint Chimichurri Sauce

Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup tightly packed fresh mint
  • ¾ cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup fresh oregano (or 2 tbs. dried)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. red-pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor, and process until well combined. Spoon over salmon fillets and serve.

Poached Salmon With Yogurt-Dill Sauce and Avocado-Citrus Salad 

Poached Salmon With Yogurt-Dill Sauce and Avocado-Citrus SaladPhotography by Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling by Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling by Paul Jackman

Makes four servings
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes, plus time to poach salmon

For the Yogurt-Dill Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic, full-fat, plain yogurt
  • 1 tbs. minced fresh dill
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Taste; you may prefer to add another pinch of salt or squeeze of lemon juice. Spoon the yogurt sauce onto your poached salmon fillets and serve.

For the Avocado-Citrus Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. grated gingerroot
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups loosely packed arugula or mixed greens
  • 1/2 cup shaved fennel or celery
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 medium grapefruit or blood orange, peeled and cut into slices
  • 1 avocado, sliced

Directions

  • First make a citrus dressing: In a small bowl, combine the fruit juices, lemon zest, honey, gingerroot, and salt. Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil; continue whisking until smooth. Transfer to a small container with a fitted lid and shake well.
  • Place the arugula or mixed greens, fennel or celery, and mint in a large bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of the citrus dressing over the salad and toss to mix and coat.
  • Top the salad with the avocado slices and grapefruit or orange segments; drizzle with a little more dressing and a sprinkle of salt.

Poached Salmon With Tricolor-Pepper Salsa and Basil Broccoli

Poached Salmon With Tricolor-Pepper Salsa and Basil BroccoliPhotography by Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling by Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling by Paul Jackman

Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes, plus time to poach salmon
Cook time: five minutes

For the Salsa

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbs. finely diced red bell pepper
  • 2 tbs. finely diced yellow bell pepper
  • 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil or mint
  • 1½ tbs. lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Serve the salsa with your poached salmon fillets.

For the Basil Broccoli

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of broccoli, stems peeled and florets cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Sea salt
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs. finely chopped garlic
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped

Directions

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli and a pinch of salt; blanch for 30 seconds. Drain the broccoli, then run it under cold water to stop the cooking process; this enables it to retain its bright green color.
  • Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red-pepper flakes, and sauté for 30 seconds, just until aromatic. Add the bell pepper or tomatoes and a pinch of salt, and sauté for an additional minute. Stir in the broccoli and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and sauté for two minutes; the broccoli should still be firm. Gently stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and basil and serve immediately.

Tip: This mix of colorful veggies is high in health-boosting phytonutrients including kaempferol, beta-carotene, and lycopene.

Poached Salmon With Asian Pesto and Watercress Salad

Poached Salmon With Asian Pesto and Watercress SaladPhotography by Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling by Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling by Paul Jackman

Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 to 25 minutes, plus time to poach salmon

For the Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs. minced gingerroot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup tightly packed mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions

Place all ingredients in a small food processor. Blend until smooth, about one minute. Spoon pesto onto the poached salmon fillets and serve.

For the Watercress Salad  

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 3 tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tsp. grated gingerroot
  • 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Sea salt
  • 2 cups tightly packed watercress
  • 2 cups shredded purple cabbage
  • 2 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted

Directions

  • First make a vinaigrette: Place cilantro, olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, gingerroot, and maple syrup into a small food processor and process about one minute, until smooth.
  • Rinse the edamame well and mix with a spritz of lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt. Combine with watercress and cabbage, and toss.
  • Just before serving, dress with cilantro vinaigrette and top with sesame seeds.

Why No Numbers?

Readers sometimes ask us why we don’t publish nutrition information with our recipes. We believe that (barring specific medical advice to the contrary) if you’re eating primarily whole, healthy foods — an array of sustainably raised vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — you probably don’t need to stress about the numbers. We prefer to focus on food quality and trust our bodies to tell us what we need. — The Editors

WEB EXTRA!

Poached Coconut-Ginger Salmon

Poached Coconut-Ginger SalmonPhotography by Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling by Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling by Paul Jackman

 

Makes: six servings
Prep time: five minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. wild salmon, pin bones removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans coconut milk
  • 3 1-inch pieces of gingerroot
  • Zest of one lime
  • 2 tsp Thai red-chili paste
  • Squeeze of lime juice
  • ¼ cup chopped scallions, fresh cilantro, or fresh mint, for garnish

Directions

  • Season the salmon with 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  • In a 3-quart sauté pan or another low-sided pot just large enough to hold the salmon in a single layer, bring the broth, coconut milk, ginger, lime zest, chili paste, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a slow boil, then simmer over medium heat. Let the ingredients infuse their flavor into the liquid for about 15 minutes.
  • Slide the salmon into the broth and poach over medium heat for five minutes, just until tender. Serve in a shallow bowl with the broth ladled on top. Squeeze a bit of lime juice over the salmon, and garnish with scallions, cilantro, or mint.

, MS, director of the Healing Kitchens Institute at Commonweal, is the author of several cookbooks, including The Healthy Mind Cookbook and The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, published by Ten Speed Press, Penguin Random House LLC, where some of these recipes originally appeared. She lives in San Rafael, Calif.

Photography by Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling by Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling by Paul Jackman

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