By Matt Essert | July 14, 2011

Photo: Matt Essert

I’ve cooked a lot of things, but until now I’ve never cooked poached salmon.

For as long as I have been cooking, the idea of poaching something never really appealed to me. That’s not to say I didn’t like eating poached food, but I was weary of doing the poaching myself.

Photo: Matt Essert

Usually when I cook, I gravitate towards simple methods that I felt I could control. Pan-frying salmon would be my preferred technique-here I could actually see the fish cooking right in front of my eyes. But I’ve decided that if I’m even going to grow as a chef, I need to try new things and test myself.

Photo: Matt Essert

From my past experience eating, and more recently cooking, poached fish, I think it’s a pretty delicate dish. There’s an important balance between staying true to the essence of what you’re cooking while also infusing some interesting flavors into the fish through the poaching liquid. You also need to be careful to cook the fish thoroughly without overdoing it. It can be tricky and appear daunting, but it’s fun to try things like this that require a bit more technique and finesse.

Photo: Matt Essert

The cooking method I used involved almost-covering the fish with a mixture of stock, wine and water, bringing the liquid to a boil, then covering the pot and removing it from the heat. This worked well since it lightly poached the fish without any real direct heat from a flame or metal. But, this method does require the right sized pot or pan. You want something large enough to fit your fish, but not so wide that you have to use too much poaching liquid. I used a wide saute pan, so I had to use more poaching liquid than I would have liked, which was a bit of a nuisance.

Photo: Matt Essert

Overall I was pretty happy with my poached salmon. I think it could have been more flavorful had I been more creative or aggressive with the ingredients in the poaching liquid, but I didn’t want to over power the salmon, which itself had a great flavor. If you really want to taste what you’re eating, I think poaching is a pretty great way to go.

  • One 8 to 10-oz piece of salmon, per person
  • 2 to 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 celery stock, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced (optional)
  • 2 to 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable, fish or chicken stock, approximate
  • 1/2 cup white wine, approximate
  • 1/2 cup water, approximate
  • 1 sprig rosemary or thyme
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning


1. In a shallow saute pan or pot, melt butter over medium heat on a stovetop.

2. Add onion, carrots, celery, and, if you want, garlic to pan and let saute until soft and onions start to become clear, about 8 to 10 minutes

3. Slightly salt and pepper salmon pieces and place on top of vegetables, as though they are a bed cradling the fish.

4. Add stock, water, wine and herbs until the liquid level is almost completely covering the fish, but not completely. You can play with the amounts of different liquids to get the right flavor you're looking for. Try different combinations or different liquids to infuse new flavors.

5. Bring liquid to a boil over high heat.

6. Once liquid is boiling, cover pot or pan and remove from heat and let sit undisturbed.

7. After about 10 minutes, check the fish. It is done once it is slightly firm and a vibrant pink. Remove from pan and serve with vegetables and some of the poaching liquid if desired.

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