The Gentle Art of Poaching

Delicate proteins like fish and eggs respond well to kind treatment, like being cooked in liquid kept just below boiling point. Poached, in other words. The principle is the same in every case - keep the liquid simmering; don't let it boil; be patient. For eggs, it works like this: Put an inch of water in the bottom of a sauté pan (which is a skillet with high sides) and bring it to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and add some salt and a tablespoon of vinegar, which helps to hold the egg white together. The liquid is simmering when the surface seems to quiver without any bubbles breaking.

Now crack a very fresh egg into a saucer or similar shallow dish, and then slide it gently into the water. It will take about five minutes to cook. You can serve it straight away by lifting it out with a slotted spatula and resting it briefly on some kitchen towel to drain off excess water. You can also drop it into iced water to keep for later. Once again you've prepared something in advance which is there when you need it. You can reheat poached eggs, by the way.

Just lower them into hot water for about half a minute. Fish If eggs, why not fish? No reason at all. You can poach fish in exactly the same way, using water, wine, stock or milk. Solid fish like cod respond best to this treatment, but any fish can be cooked in the same way. And now for the smart bit :0) If you pre-heat the poaching liquid, put the fish in a shallow tray, add the liquid and put the whole lot under a hot broiler, you will achieve a number of things; · A slight 'crust' on top of the fish · The flesh will remain beautifully moist · It will cook through evenly · You can remove the fish from under the broiler and keep it warm in the cooking liquid until you are ready to serve it.

Now take the next step up in excellence - poached salmon or trout for lunch! First you'll need something to cook it in. A fish kettle is ideal of course, but expensive for a dish you may not cook that often. I use a large, oval casserole dish that will also cook pot roasts, whole chickens and so on.

Whole fish are easily poached in a bouillon made up of water (enough to cover the fish), some slices of onion, two or three peppercorns, a bay leaf and some vermouth. How much? How much do you like vermouth? About a wine glass full. Now bring all this to the boil on top of the stove, turn off the heat, slide the cleaned fish into the hot liquid, cover and leave overnight. In the morning it will be perfectly cooked. Lifting the fish out can sometimes be a little tricky, but with care you can manage it.

I use my hands and I strongly advise you to do the same. It's much easier to spread your fingers under the fish than a rigid spatula. You'll find the skin peels off easily and you can dress the fish with cucumber or mayonnaise or whatever takes your fancy. So simple. Such a stunning result. And don't forget to make your own mayonnaise which, as everyone knows, is a very tricky thing to do.

Don't believe a word of it. Forget the stories you may have heard and follow me (as well as Keith Floyd who taught me this trick). Put two eggs in the goblet of a blender.

Add a pinch of salt and a dessertspoon of vinegar. Switch on. With the motor running, drizzle the oil of your choice (I use grape-seed oil) into the top of the blender until you achieve the required result.

You'll use about half a pint of oil. If the mixture is too thick, simply add a little hot water and whisk again. Tip: Avoid olive oil! Yes I know what it says in the recipe books and if you like mayonnaise with a bitter flavor, ignore me.

But I promise you your guests will not be asking for seconds if you do :0).

Michael Sheridan is an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking matters. His website at contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks.

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