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Nyonya Delicacies

Poaching a Big Fish

(Newsletter Issue #014)


How to poach a big fish

Poaching is a great way to cook a big whole fish, particularly one that you will be serving cold, because poaching cooks without fat, which would congeal on the fish when it cooled. Poaching makes the skin of the fish easy to remove, leaving the flesh underneath smooth and intact, even-colored, and pretty looking. Best of all, poaching doesn't alter the delicate taste of the fish.

Fish is traditionally poached in a court bouillon, a vegetable stock flavored with white wine, but is often simplified by just combining water, white wine, salt and a bouquet garni in the pan with the fish.

You need a fish poacher or a large deep roasting pan to poach a big fish. A poacher is a long narrow lidded pot with handles at either end that is fitted with a two-handled rack. A fish poacher is easier to use than a roasting pan because the rack makes it easy to pull the fish out of the hot water without its falling apart. And the shape of the poacher allows you to use a minimum of liquid.

Kitchen Tips

  • Fish poachers come in different sizes. Obviously, the larger the fish, the larger the poacher you'll need. But if the fish is too large for your poacher, ask your fish retailer to cut off the head and the tail.

  • It's best to heat the poacher over two burners.

  • Poach fish in a court bouillon, or for simplicity, in salted water with a splash of white wine and a bouquet garni.

  • Start the fish in cold liquid so that the outside of the fish doesn't overcook before the inside is cooked through.

  • Poach fish for 7 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Start timing the cooking once the liquid has come to the simmer. Begin checking doneness after cooking for 7 minutes per inch by lifting the rack out and setting it on an angle on the rim of the poacher. Make a small cut down to the bone, parallel to the backbone, in the middle of the fish and peek in. The flesh should pull away from the bone and have lost most of its translucency. Or test by sticking an instant-read thermometer into the back of the fish, again along the backbone - the thickest part of the fish. It's done when it reaches 135oF.

  • The skin of poached fish has an unpleasant texture and should be peeled off as soon as the fish is cooked or it will stick.

To Poach in a Fish Poacher

1. Place the fish to be poached in the fish poacher and ladle over enough cooled court bouillon to completely cover the fish. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. Simmer the fish gently until done. Lift the rack out of the poacher and set it on an angle on top of the poacher, To remove the skin, cut through it at the base of the head.
3. Peel off the skin with your fingers and discard. Gently turn the fish out onto a serving platter and peel the skin off the other side. If the fish is too large or awkward to handle, leave the skin on the bottom and discard when serving.

Serving a Poached Fish

1. Insert 2 spoons or a fish knife in the dark line that runs along the center of the top of the fish. Gently separate the 2 halves of the top fillet.
2. Cut the fillets into sections with one of the spoons - here, the top fillet is sectioned into sixths, but for a larger fish, you'll need to cut more pieces.
3. Continue sectioning the fillet and transfer the pieces to hot plates.
4. Lift the spinal column to detach it from the bottom fillet.
5. Break the spinal column where it joins the head and set it and the head aside on the platter.
6. Pull away any bones that remain attached to the bottom fillet.
7. Separate the bottom fillet into sections, leaving the skin behind if you haven't already removed it, and serve.

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