Of all the many ways to cook salmon, poaching has got to be one of the best. Poaching, unfortunately, has
a bad reputation. It has a bad reputation because it’s very easy to do wrong. Poorly poached salmon will result in a bland, dry and unexciting product. Just like boiled chicken is bland, dry and not exciting. Not my kind of food! Correctly poached salmon, however, is phenomenal. Let me tell you why and give you a little background into poaching.
Poaching is a ‘wet’ cooking technique. It’s also very important to make the distinction between ‘poaching’, ‘simmering’ and ‘boiling’. All three are wet cooking techniques, and all three are differentiated by heat. We know proteins need to brought a certain temperature to cook and be safe to eat. Without going into the precise science of the temperatures, let’s assume the temperature of our ‘wet’ cooking process needs to be around 180 degrees F. Chefs who are into molecular gastronomy and very specific temperature control will use what’s called a thermal immersion circulator, which is a piece of equipment that gently keeps liquids at a very specific temperature while circulating around whatever you have poaching. This is used primarily in ‘sous vide’ cooking, which is a whole other topic. Again, for our poaching purposes, a liquid maintained at approx 180 degrees will suffice. This is just under a simmer, which means that you should see no bubbles in the liquid, but it should be close.
The point of keeping the liquid at this temperature is to slowly and very gently cook your protein. Exposing protein to high heat, whether it be boiling water, a hot grill, saute pan, oven, and so on, will initially cause the protein to seize. It shrinks and tightens. Please don’t get me wrong, grilled food is extraordinary and this reaction of proteins seizing, is often very desirable. But remember, poaching is it’s own technique and we want to stay away from any high heat.
The liquid used when poaching is just as important as the temperature. You are submerging your protein in a liquid. Whatever flavor the liquid has will be imparted into the meat. So it’s necessary to use a highly flavored liquid. Short shocks are the best. In other words, create a quick stock, or broth, ahead of time, to impart as much flavor as possible (short stocks require higher temperature, so it’s necessary to make ahead of time).
For salmon, many different flavors work, and I’d like to share with you one of my favorites. An Asian inspired lemongrass broth is a wonderful compliment and medium for poached salmon. Dill poached salmon, spicy Korean poaches salmon, cucumber and lime poached salmon…. the list goes on, and there is no shortage of ideas. The following recipe will give you the guidelines, and I think you will see, it’s quite easy. Create a beautifully seasoned and flavorful broth, keep the temperature at 180, and you will easily produce some of the best salmon.
Lemongrass Poached Salmon
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 3 portions
18-22 oz excellent quality salmon, skin off (AK wild, scottish or anything not farmed)
2 stalks lemon grass, cut into 3 inch pieces and smashed with a mallet or back of a heavy knife
2 shallots, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, smashed
5 thai chilis, sliced in half
3 whole alspice
2 whole cloves
1 tsbp whole corriander
1 stick cinnamon
1 small knob ginger, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces and smashed
1/2 bunch green onions
3 tbsp light red or yellow miso
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 4 inch pieces and smashed (keep reserved for 2nd cooking process- do not use in initial stock production)
Make your short stock:
In a small stock pot, begin heating the vegetable oil over high heat. All ingredients except the salmon, miso, soy and salt. Cook until highly fragrant. Add the sesame oil. Cook for another 30 sec and add one gallon water, the soy sauce, 1 tbsp salt and miso. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve.
Place about half the stock on a steep sides saute pan along with the reserved lemon grass. Very lightly sprinkle the salmon with salt on all sides and place in the liquid. Add enough additional liquid to completely cover the salmon. Slowly bring the heat to 180 degrees and hold at 180 until cooked through. You will know it’s cooked because it will become firmer, specks of white will appear on the edges and the color will become lighter. Using a large spatula, remove from the liquid and serve right away.
Best served with steamed jasmine rice and steamed or sauteed Asian style vegetables, like baby bok choy, Japanese eggpland, shitake mushrooms or tat soi.