It’s a fabulous, flavorful way to cook delicate foods.

By Jennifer Anderson
February 16, 2021
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poached salmon in Dutch oven with cooking liquid and vegetables
Credit: Romolo Yanes

A classic cooking method, poaching uses a lightly flavored both to cook delicate foods with gentle, moist heat. Sometimes the word "classic" is code for "old-fashioned," and that can certainly be the case with poaching, a technique that probably reached its pinnacle of popularity in the rarified atmosphere of hotel dining rooms during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Regardless of its current trendiness, however, poaching reached classic status for a reason: It's a fabulous and flavorful way to cook delicate foods like eggs, fish, chicken breasts, and fruit while maintaining their moisture and structure.

To poach something is to cook it on the stovetop in a pan of gently simmering (not boiling!) liquid. The liquid can be anything, but is usually some version of a court bouillon ("KORT bwee-YON"), a French culinary term that translates to "short broth" since it can be whipped up quickly, without the hours of simmering typical to other stocks and broths. A typical court bouillon is water spiked with something acidic—vinegar, wine, or citrus—for a flavorful punch and seasoned with aromatics like peppercorns, bay leaf, and thyme. That's just a jumping-off point though: You can customize your seasonings to suit any food mood. Try ginger, lemongrass, and garlic; dashi or miso broth; or a variety of teas, to name just a few possibilities. In the realm of fruits and desserts, you can never go wrong with vanilla bean or cinnamon sticks.

Here, we're looking at some of the foods best suited for poaching, as well as sharing our best recipes for each.

Eggs

If you've eaten anything poached, it's probably an egg. Not only is a poached egg, with its vivid, velvety yolk oozing across the plate, picturesque and Instagram-worthy, but it also has an almost-magical ability to transform a salad, bowl of soup, or savory side dish into a complete and satisfying meal. Master the basics of poached eggs, and then build on your skills with some of our irresistible egg-topped meals. Try Chicory Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs, Sesame Toasts with Poached Eggs and Avocado, or Spring Ragout with Asparagus and Poached Eggs. Another approach to poaching eggs that's a little more rustic is to simply crack the eggs into a simmering pot of soup or sauce that you will then enjoy in its entirety, with no need to scoop the eggs out separately as in this Tomato Soup with Poached Eggs.

Seafood

With its typically mild flavor and lean, delicate texture that's particularly susceptible to overcooking, seafood of all sorts is a perfect candidate for poaching. Shrimp, salmon, trout, cod, halibut, and other favorite fishes stay moist after poaching, and can be served hot, chilled, or at room temperature. Get hooked on some of our favorite preparations; start with this easy technique for poaching salmon fillets in a skillet or try Poached Cod in Tomato Broth. For a truly luxurious experience, try poaching seafood in olive oil or butter; this Oil-Poached Halibut with Fennel, Tomatoes, and Mashed Potatoes is simply fabulous.

Chicken

If you haven't tried poached chicken (especially chicken breast), it's time to see what you've been missing. Because the results do not look especially glamorous—pale, unadorned meat emerging from a thin broth— it's easy to write off this cooking method for chicken. But poaching is one of the very best ways to prepare chicken for salads, pot pies, enchiladas, and so many other dishes that call for cooked chicken as a main ingredient. Since poaching maintains moisture and tenderness, the chicken in your recipe will never taste like "leftovers." A recipe we particularly like is Chicken Breast Poached in Buttermilk. And for quick, delicious dinners, try Lemon-Ginger Chicken and Green Beans and Poached-Chicken Cups with Ginger-Scallion Oil.

Fruit

Poaching is one of our favorite ways to turn fresh fruit into an elegant dessert. This method is particularly good for transforming underripe stone fruits into something tender and flavorful. Minted Poached Peaches is a good example. Wines or liqueurs sweetened with sugar and perfumed with vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, or citrus zest give the poaching liquid its flavor, as is the case with these Lillet-Poached Apricots. Poached fruit can be served simply with whipped cream (this pear recipe is luxurious but simple), spooned over cake, or baked into elaborate pastries.

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