Poaching involves placing seafood in just enough liquid to cover it, and gently cooking below boiling point until the flesh becomes tender. The temperature should be 75–85°C. Poaching is usually done on a stove but an oven can be used.
Poaching differs from boiling and simmering. Poaching requires a lower temperature than boiling (100°C) and simmering (95–98°C) and is therefore more suitable for cooking seafood. Boiling and simmering may cause the proteins to tighten, which results in toughening of the flesh. Boiling is also too rapid for seafood and may cause the flesh to break or fall apart. Poaching, although slower, will generate a better result. Seafood is occasionally blanched (i.e. briefly plunged into boiling water and then refreshed under cold water). However, blanching is used only to remove the skin, reduce strong flavours or extend the shelf life of seafood by blanching immediately before freezing—it is not a cooking method.
- Almost any cooking pan that can hold the seafood in a single layer is suitable. A lid is optional, but it does help retain heat and prevent the poaching liquid from evaporating.
- For gilled and gutted finfish, fish kettles are ideal. If the kettle is large, it can be placed over two hotplates.
- A steamer designed to fit into a saucepan or wok can be used, as long as the poaching liquid can cover the seafood.
How to do it
- The seafood can be wrapped, placed on a rack, or immersed directly in the poaching liquid. Wrapping before placing in the liquid will help hold the flesh together, while a rack or perforated pan will make it easier to remove the seafood, especially gilled and gutted finfish, from the poaching liquid.
- Use only enough poaching liquid to cover the seafood. The liquid can be plain or salted water, a court bouillon, a fish fumet, wine, cider or even milk. Milk is especially suitable for strongly flavoured, smoked or salted seafood, as it helps counteract a salty or strong flavour.
- Heat the poaching liquid to a simmer, then gently immerse the seafood. Bring the liquid back to poaching temperature (75–85°C), and maintain heat at this level.
Optional: cover with lid or foil
It is also possible to poach seafood by immersing it in cold water, then bringing the water to 75–85°C. This is not the optimal method, but if used, is better for gilled and gutted, large finfish rather than fillets. The cooking time should be calculated from when the water reaches the correct temperature.
These will vary considerably depending on the species, thickness, quantity and initial temperature of the seafood, and on the equipment. The times suggested below are a general guide only.
||Approximate cooking times for steaming
|Gilled and gutted whole finfish
|3 cm thick
2 cm thick
1 cm thick
|Crab or rocklobster