Poaching is one of those underused and unappreciated cooking techniques that, when remembered, makes you think, “why don’t I do this more?” Poaching is just cooking something gently in liquid — and fish is the perfect candidate. Its a delicate protein that often needs a gentle cooking method and is a great canvas for a variety of flavors that can be infused into the poaching liquid.
Poaching will rarely give you the kind of flavor punch that knocks you over the head with its power, but it will imbue an incredibly subtle and aromatic flavor into the right ingredient. A lovely, fresh white fish is the perfect vessel for that kind of subtlety and Thai flavors are ideal in their fragrant and flavorful nature.
Once you prepare your poaching liquid you can refrigerate or freeze it and use it in the future —so feel free to double up or triple up on that part of the recipe and save yourself the trouble for next time.
Since the fish is so simply beautiful, I like to serve it with equally simple and gently cooked vegetables. The bok choy is cooked with just mirin and the mushrooms are sauteed in a simple sesame oil mixture.
- 2 large fillets of firm white fish*
- 4 cups of water
- 3 inches of ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 thai chills, whole
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 3 stalks of lemongrass
- 2 cups of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cups of bok choy, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of mirin
- 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- chopped and de-seeded thai chilis for garnish
- chopped scallion for garnish
- To prepare the poaching liquid: Cut the bottom 3 inches of each lemongrass stem off and discard the tops. Cut off the rough bottom area and then slice the remaining thick part of the lemon grass in half lengthwise. Peal off three or four of the the rough outer layers until the more tender center of the stalk remains.
- Pierce the chilis a couple of times with the tip of a sharp knife. Add the chilis, garlic, lemongrass and ginger into a small saucepan with the 4 cups of water. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer at medium heat. Allow to cook for 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half.
- To cook the fish: Transfer the liquid to a frying pan big enough to fit both pieces of fish. Add half of a teaspoon of salt to the liquid and then bring it to a a low simmer over medium-low heat. Gently add the fish into the pan and cook for 3 minutes on each side, turning gently with a large spatula.
- To cook the bok choy: Add the mirin to a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the bok choy and cook, stirring occasionally for 2 minutes until the bok choy leaves have wilted.
- To cook the mushrooms: Heat half of the vegetable and sesame oils in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add half of the mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally for about 7 minutes until the mushrooms become golden brown around the edges Lightly salt the mushrooms about one minute before removing them from the heat. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms**
** You want to cook the mushrooms in two batches in order to get that great caramelizations. If you crowd the pan too much the liquid that the mushrooms release wont allow the caramelization to occur and you'll end up with much soggier results.