Shallow Poaching

The procedure of shallow-poaching fish is based on one of the great dishes of classical cuisine: sole or other white fish poached in fumet and white wine. If well prepared, it can be one of the most exquisite dishes on the menu.

This method of preparation is best for lean, delicate white fish, such as sole, halibut, turbot, haddock, cod, pike, and perch. It is also used for salmon and trout.The fish is always served with a sauce made from the cuisson—that is, the poaching liquid.

The procedure and recipe given here are for fillets of sole au vin blanc (in white wine).This is the basic preparation, and most other classical poached fish recipes are variations on it. Many of the variations involve only different garnishes.

Because of the delicacy of flavors, this preparation requires good-quality fish and well-made stock, and the wine should have a good flavor. A cheap, bad-tasting wine will spoil the dish.

The basic classical procedure is detailed in this section. Using this procedure as a pattern,the technique of shallow poaching can also be used for other fish preparations, substituting other cooking liquids for the fumet,wine,veloute,and cream.

CUISSON

The basic meaning of the French word cuisson is "cooking." If you order a steak in a restaurant in Paris and are asked how you would like the cuisson, you are being asked whether you would like the meat cooked rare, medium, or well done.

In the context of poaching or simmering foods, cuissonrefers to the cooking liquid, which may be used as the base of a sauce. This term is commonly used in restaurant kitchens on both sides of the Atlantic.

Procedure for Poaching Fish in Fumet and Wine_

1. Collect all equipment and food supplies. Select a pan just large enough to hold the fish portions in a single layer. This will enable you to use a minimum amount of poaching liquid. Also, use a pan with low, sloping sides. This makes it easier to remove the fragile cooked fish from the pan.

2. Butter the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with chopped shallots.

3. Arrange the fish portions in the pan in a single layer. Season them lightly.

4. Add enough fish fumet and white wine to almost cover the fish. Use no more liquid than necessary so the flavor will be more concentrated and less reduction will be required later.

5. Cover the fish with a piece of buttered parchment or other paper and cover the pan with a lid. The paper holds in the steam to cook the top of the fish. It is sometimes omitted if the pan has a tight lid, but it does help the fish cook more evenly.

6. Bring the liquid just to a simmer and finish poaching in the oven at moderate heat. Thin fillets will cook in just a few minutes. Fish may be poached on top of the range, but the oven provides more even, gentle heat from both top and bottom.

7. Drain the liquid into a wide pan and keep the fish warm. After a few minutes of standing, more liquid will drain from the fish. Add this to the rest.

8. Reduce the cuisson over high heat to about one-fourth its volume.

9. Add fish velouté and heavy cream and bring to a boil. Adjust seasoning with salt, white pepper, and lemon juice.

10. Strain the sauce.

11. Arrange the fish on plates for service, coat with the sauce, and serve immediately.

Va ariations in Sauce Production

Using a prepared velouté, as in the standard method just given, makes the sauce production very quick, and the procedure can easily be used for cooking to order.

An alternative method may be used if no velouté is available or if a large quantity of fish is being poached for banquet service:

Use a larger quantity of fumet and wine for cooking the fish and reduce it by only about half, depending on the amount of sauce needed.

Thicken the liquid with roux or beurre manié and simmer until no raw starch taste remains.

Finish the preparation as in the basic method.

Another popular method uses no starch thickener. Instead, the reduced poaching liquid is lightly bound with heavy cream or raw butter.

• To bind the sauce with cream, add about 2 ounces (60 mL) heavy cream per portion to the reduced cooking liquid and continue to reduce until the sauce is lightly thickened.

• To bind with butter, whip raw butter into the reduced cooking liquid as for monter au beurre(p. 167). Use about 1/2 ounce (15 g) butter or more per portion.

A further variation is known as à la nage, which means "swimming." To serve poached seafood à la nage, reduce the cooking liquid only slightly, season, and strain it carefully. If desired, enrich the liquid with a very small quantity of butter. Serve the seafood with the liquid in a soup plate or other plate deep enough to hold the juices.

In one recipe in this section, the fish is steamed above the wine rather than poached in it. But the dish is finished by making a sauce from the wine and fumet in a fairly traditional manner (even though the wine is red rather than white!).

The procedure of shallow poaching in wine and fumet can also be adapted to other preparations. In place of the fumet and wine in step 4, substitute other liquids as directed in the recipe. To finish the sauce, reduce the cuisson and, instead of finishing the sauce with velouté and cream, finish the sauce as directed in the individual recipe.

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