Oven poaching salmon keeps fish light, flavorful

January 30, 1994|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,Knight-Ridder News Service

An old French technique for poaching fish in the oven results in a light and delicate texture in just a little splash of moisture. The fish is not only lean and healthy but also absolutely delicious.

Here's how it works: You place the fish on a bed of vegetables in a skillet, splash with fish stock and white wine, then cover with parchment. Heat the skillet until the liquids begin to boil, then transfer to the oven to finish cooking.

Serve with pan juices finished into a sauce.

Why it tastes so good: Cooking fish in liquid preserves that moist, delicate and slightly resilient texture. Here the small liquid volume concentrates the natural rich flavor.

Advantages: This style of cooking is quick, and there are no added fats.

Selecting your fish: This works best on less dense fish such as pickerel, whitefish, sole, salmon, mahi-mahi and snapper. Oily fish such as bluefish and dense fish like swordfish or tuna don't work as well because the high heat does not penetrate as readily.

Choose fillets from 1/2 -inch to 3/4 -inch thick. Thicker fillets take so long to cook that the moisture escapes and the fish dries out; fillets thinner than 1/2 -inch cook too fast.

Tricks of the trade: The flavor of the fish depends on what you cook with it. Select companions such as shallots, leeks, carrots, fennel or sweet peppers for their flavor and color. When cut into a fine julienne they cook and release their flavor quickly.

The wine, citrus juice and stock also influence the flavor of the dish. For the best sauce, combine these liquids and any of the vegetable garnish trimmings in a separate sauce pan and simmer until reduced by half to concentrate flavor. Strain out any garnish vegetables and allow the reduced liquids to cool before combining with the fish.

Salmon poached with shallots and parsnips

Serves 4

4 medium parsnips, peeled, sliced 1/8 -inch thick, reserve stems


2 cups white wine

2 cups light vegetable or fish stock

1 bunch parsley stems, washed, leaves reserved

1 cup shallots, peeled, ends removed, cut 1/8 -inch thick, reserve skins and ends

2 carrots, peeled, ends removed, sliced thin, cut into 1/8 -inch julienne, reserve ends and peels

4 salmon fillets, boneless and skinless, fatty tissues trimmed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons snipped chives

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut two of the parsnips into julienne strips and the remaining two into 1-inch pieces. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the julienne parsnips, cooking until just al dente, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove to a sieve and immediately cool under cold running water. Reserve.

Add the remaining parsnip chunks to the boiling water, cooking until tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a sieve and drain. Transfer the parsnips chunks to a food processor, puree until smooth and reserve.

In an acid-resistant saucepan combine the white wine, vegetable or fish stock, parsley stems and vegetable trimmings from parsnips, shallots and carrots. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cooking until reduced to 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Pour through a fine sieve, collecting the reduced liquids and discarding the vegetables. Allow to cool.

In a nonstick skillet spread the shallots, carrots and parsnips across the bottom. Position the salmon over the vegetables, allowing a little room between each fillet. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the cooled liquids over the vegetables to a depth half the thickness of the salmon. Cover tightly with a piece of parchment.

Place the skillet over high heat and bring to a simmer, about 3 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the lower rack of the oven and cook until desired degree of doneness, about 3 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and return to a burner. Remove and discard the parchment.

Place the salmon on hot serving dishes. Bring the cooking liquids to a boil over high heat. Add the parsnip puree and cook until reduced to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Add the chives and adjust the seasonings. Spoon the sauce and garnishes over the salmon. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve.

Nutrition details per serving: calories, 317; percent of calories from fat, 25 percent; fat, 9 grams; protein, 34 grams; carbohydrate, 24 grams; cholesterol, 61 milligrams; sodium, 332 milligrams; diabetic exchanges: 3 3/4 lean meat, 1 3/4 vegetable, 3/4 bread.

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