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In praise of poached fish

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The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

We have a copper fish poacher, given to us by a French friend, that is stamped with the name "E. Dehillerin" on its side. This is perhaps the best kitchen-supply store anywhere. If you find yourself in Paris, go there. You won't leave empty-handed.

The pot is dinged up and in need of a good polish, but it is a thing of kite-shaped beauty. It was fabricated to cook whole turbot. Inside this turbotiere is a fitted, perforated insert that holds the fish. When the fish is done, you lift up the insert and leave the poaching liquid behind. I can't get whole turbot very often, but I frequently poach large pieces of halibut in it. It's really great for two to three flounders at a time, it holds a half-dozen lobsters or more, and it's also perfect for sides of salmon.


There was a time when poaching fish was something restaurants did many times a night. It was a classic approach. Simmering vats of court-bouillon, the flavorful liquid used in poaching, were kept on the back of the stove. Fillets or small whole fish were lowered into the gently bubbling broth and cooked until just barely done. Then the fish was carefully lifted out onto a beautiful plate and presented to the lucky diner. Various sauces were made separately to complement the particular fish being served. My favorite to poach at this time of year is salmon.

First I make the court-bouillon. This broth infuses flavor into the fish as it cooks. It is quickly prepared, in about 10 minutes. Vegetables such as carrots, celery, and onion are added to water, white wine, and lemon to make an aromatic mixture with an acidic tinge. While court-bouillon is most often used to poach fish, you can simmer anything in it, so try it with eggs, chicken breasts, or vegetables for a healthy flavor boost. The court-bouillon should just barely bubble as the salmon cooks; this gentle approach guards against the fillet's ending up tough or dry. Poaching early in the day while the house is still somewhat cool is a good way not to heat up the kitchen, and the salmon has time to cool before being served at lunch or dinner.


For a sauce to serve with the salmon, I hesitate to combine dill, cucumber, and yogurt. Any cook who ever worked at Hamersley's Bistro will attest to the fact I am definitely not a fan of dill. I usually find it cloying and a little sickly, but here it perfectly complements the lightly poached fish. The flavors work so well together it amazes me. How can dill, a flavor I dislike, taste so good in this dish? But the sauce adds just the right layer of bright, tangy, refreshing goodness to each bite. Any other dill haters out there? Try this and see what you think.

Cold poached salmon is a classic and might be the best, most elegant answer to what to serve on a scorching summer night.

Cold poached salmon with cucumber, yogurt, and dill

Serves 4


1 medium cucumber, peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain, whole milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 scallion, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Dice the cucumber and place the pieces into a strainer. Toss with the kosher salt and place over a sink or bowl. Let the water drain from the cucumber for 2-3 hours. Rinse the diced cucumber with cold water and dry well with paper towels. Reserve.


2. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, chopped dill, scallion, garlic, Dijon mustard, and grated rind and lemon juice. Stir well.

3. Fold in the cucumber and add more salt and black pepper, if you like. Refrigerate until ready to use.


1 cup white wine
1 small carrot, washed and chopped
1 stalk celery, leaves removed and reserved, chopped
1 shallot, sliced
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ lemon
1 tablespoon salt
1 stalk fresh parsley (optional)
pound salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed

1. In a fish poacher or shallow pan large enough to hold the salmon, combine the white wine, carrot, celery, shallot, bay leaves, peppercorns, fennel seeds, lemon, salt, and parsley (if using). Add about 3 cups of water, or more as needed to cover the ingredients, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes more.

2. Lower the salmon fillet into the court-bouillon, cover the pan, and cook for 7 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the salmon sit in the court-bouillon for 5 additional minutes.

3. Using two metal spatulas, carefully lift the salmon out of the poaching pan and place it on a plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let cool. Note: If you plan to serve the fish within 1 hour, leave it at room temperature. If not, refrigerate until 15 minutes before serving time.

4. Carefully transfer the salmon to a serving platter. Place the yogurt sauce next to the fish and decorate the platter as you wish with a combination of reserved celery leaves, greens, lemon slices, cucumber slices, dill sprigs, and chopped chives. Gordon Hamersley

Gordon Hamersley can be reached at