Poaching is not a particularly common method of cooking when compared to boiling, roasting, grilling or baking but, when done right, it can not only result in beautifully moist meats and fish, it can also add serious amounts of flavour.
Poaching is so flexible that pretty much anything can be cooked this way from regular dishes such as poached egg right through to delicate fruit dishes. The reason this is possible is because, unlike boiling, the heat of the cooking liquid is kept lower so that foods can cook gently without risk of them breaking apart.
Another benefit of poaching is that it is generally much healthier as no fat is added to the dish unlike frying or roasting where oil is required.
Types of Poaching
Poaching can be done either “shallow” or “deep” which basically means either where the food being cooked is completely covered or only partially so (in which case the steam cooks the rest). It might depend on what’s being cooked and which liquid you are using.
Shallow poaching works well with things such as fresh fillets of fish and single portions of chicken.
Deep poaching is better if you want to cook whole joints or fruits and vegetables.
The liquid in which you poach your food will have an impact on how it tastes once cooked. Traditionally food is poached in one of water, milk, stock or wine with other ingredients being added afterwards to add flavour.
If you are cooking meat or fish, it can be a good idea to include some sort of acidic substance such as a citric juice (lemon, lime or orange for example) or a form of vinegar. This will help the molecules and fibres in the proteins to hold together and stay firm.
Flavours can be added to the liquid by adding herbs and spices or by cutting up very fine vegetables. Popular things to add are: basil, parsley, chives, peppercorns, onions, shallots and of course the essential seasoning of salt and pepper.
Poaching is something that may take a little practice to get good at but once you have mastered it you can treat yourself and your family/friends to exciting, flavoursome treats that are healthy.