Poached salmon—there’s a reason this preparation is such a classic. It’s easy, elegant, and it really lets a good piece of salmon shine.
But what exactly is poaching and why is it so ideal for salmon? Read on.
A Poaching Primer
According to The Food Lover’s Companion—an incredible food dictionary, by the way—to poach is “to cook food gently in liquid just below the boiling point.” Well, what’s so great about that?
For one, because it’s a wet cooking method, poaching helps ensure that whatever you’re cooking ends up juicy and tender. That’s especially welcome when we’re talking about fish, which can so easily overcook and become dry.
Another thing that’s great about poaching is that, because it’s delicate and gentle, it really lets the inherent flavors of whatever you’re cooking shine. And that’s especially welcome with salmon, which has such a uniquely rich, sweet flavor that I sometimes wonder why I cook it any other way.
While any liquid can be a poaching liquid—water, broth, olive oil, you name it—court-bouillon is traditional for fish. I think of court-bouillon as a weak vegetable broth—vegetables, herbs, sometimes something acidic like lemon juice and/or wine, and sometimes spices like a few cloves or peppercorns are simmered together only briefly. The resulting mildly flavored mixture is one of court-bouillon’s plusses, adding only a little nuance and enhancing delicacy.
You can make court-bouillon in about 15 minutes—here’s a recipe from Epicurious and one from the Food Network. But in a pinch, I’ve been known to use a 50-50 mixture of store-bought vegetable stock and water.
A Simple But Classic Sauce
To enhance your simply prepared, classically poached salmon, what better than a simple sauce? Mine combines dill—also classic with salmon—with sour cream, chives, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. It’s really easy to make, and really tasty.
On the off chance that you have leftovers, cold or room temperature poached salmon would be delicious plunked on top of a green salad. You can also make it into a spread or dip or into salmon burgers. Check out my article on What To Do With Leftover Salmon for more ideas on using up leftover salmon.
Any leftover sauce could accessorize your poached salmon salad, poached salmon dip, or poached salmon burgers. It’d also be great on its own as a dip or served alongside cold chicken or steamed vegetables.Print
- 2 cups court boullion* or 1 cup vegetable broth and 1 cup water
- 4 (5-6 oz.) salmon fillets, about ¾-inch thick, without skin
- ¾ cup sour cream, crème fraiche, or Greek-style plain yogurt
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives, plus coarsely chopped chives for garnish
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnish
- Zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
- ½ tsp. pepper, ideally white pepper, plus more to taste
- ½ tsp. salt, plus more to taste
- In a large skillet over medium heat, bring the court boullion to a gentle simmer. Add the salmon and adjust the heat to maintain barely a simmer. Cover and cook until the salmon is barely opaque throughout, about 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the sour cream, chopped chives, dill, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper. Add more lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste and set aside.
- Use a slotted spatula to arrange the salmon on plates or a platter. Dollop the sauce on top and garnish with the coarsely chopped chives and dill sprigs. Serve any remaining sauce on the side.