Olive oil poaching may seem like a complicated preparation fit for expensive entrees at fancy restaurants. In fact it’s an easy way to compliment the delicate flavor of fresh seafood. It does use a lot of olive oil but the oil can be strained and re-used. Use regular olive oil, not extra virgin!
The main consideration in olive oil poaching is the temperature of the oil. If you’re not careful you’ll go from poaching to deep fat frying in the blink of an eye. I always use a candy thermometer to check my oil temp. If it gets too hot before you’re ready to add the fish, take your pan off the heat and wait until it cools down.
You can poach in a frying pan or a saucepan. Choose a pan with a surface area similar in size to what you’re trying to poach. Deeper sides and a smaller base will require less oil. Measure the depth of your piece of fish at its thickest point and add that much oil to your pan. Don’t worry, when you add your filet it will displace enough oil to submerge the fish.
Heat the oil gently on medium-low heat until it registers 150 – 200 degrees on your thermometer. Add your fish. It should not sputter, pop or sizzle. If it does, you’re frying not poaching! Immediately pull your fish out, remove your pan from the heat and let it cool before trying again.
The amount of time it takes to poach your fish will depend on the thickness of the filet. Your fish should be firm, moist and flake easily when it is done. The piece in the above picture took less than five minutes to poach through. Better to undercook it than overcook it. Pull it out and check it. If it’s not done you can always slip it back into the oil. If you overcook it there’s not much you can do except make fish patties!
I used this method recently when I received some halibut from my homeowners. They’d caught it offshore Homer, Alaska, and had it express mailed to Tennessee to put in their freezer. The filets had been individually packaged and frozen and they generously urged me to help myself to a package. I was thrilled to be eating it the day after it had been caught so far away!
Olive oil poaching is the perfect way to pay homage to a beautiful piece of fresh-caught fish. The halibut came out with just the lightest taste of olive oil and was arguably the best tasting thing I’ve made in a long time. I topped it with some fresh basil, garlic, feta pesto and a side of sauted, herbed winter squash. Fresh fish, olive oil and herbs from the garden; a perfect triumvirate of flavors!
Add olive oil poaching to your arsenal of culinary techniques. It’s easier than you think!