Chef Notes: Olive Oil Poaching Seafood
I don’t know about you but seafood can be a pretty intimidating. How to cook it? When to flip it? How do you know when it’s done? And with the prices of seafood these days the last thing you want is to end up with salmon that looks like cat food. I’ve got a method for you to try that is practically fool-proof. It works every time and is almost impossible to screw up. The other thing I like about it is that most of it is done in the oven, which gives you time to prepare a side dish, take a shower, drink a glass or two of wine or help the kids with their homework. Don’t be put off by the amount of olive oil you use. I’ve got tips on re-use.
First, choose your seafood. The best options are full flavored, firm fish such as salmon, arctic char, halibut, tuna, swordfish, or extra large shrimp. Fish filets should be at least ¾” thick but an inch or so is even better. Rub your choice of protein with whatever seasonings you like, at the very least kosher salt and pepper. Bring your seafood to room temperature by letting it sit out for about one hour. Don’t go over an hour, you don’t want it to become unsafe. But this step is key. If the protein is too cold it will lower the temperature of the oil and the timing will be off.
Second, grab a straight sided sauté pan or a large saucepan. It’s ok to crowd the pan but you only want a single layer. Fill the pan with extra virgin olive oil, not your precious drizzling oil just regular old decent EVOO is fine. It needs to be just deep enough to cover the seafood, so use your best judgment. You can start to heat the oil at this point, over low heat on the stove top until it reaches 120F. Use an instant read or candy thermometer to keep an eye on the heat. During this time feel free to toss in a few crushed garlic cloves, some sprigs of thyme, sage, rosemary, or whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. You don’t have to season the oil but why not?
As soon as the oil reaches 120F, slide your seafood into the pan and throw into an oven that’s been preheated to 225F. Set a timer for 25 minutes and walk away. After 25 minutes check for doneness by looking for white droplets of protein on the fish or, if you’re really paranoid, use a fork to flake the fish or cut into one shrimp. I’ve never had to put the fish back in the oven but if you need to continue cooking do it in 5 minute increments.
Now, what to do with all that oil. Cool completely and strain it carefully through a fine mesh sieve or coffee filter, being careful to stop straining before the juices from the fish, which will have settled at the bottom, go into your container. Then refrigerate or freeze until your next poaching endeavor. You can reuse it several times. Alternatively, if you are making a seafood dish where olive oil is used for sautéing, as a sauce, or in the sauce you can scoop out what you need.
This method creates a delicious silky texture in fish and infuses a lot of flavor from the oil as well as your seasonings. The fish absorb very little oil and no further sauce is necessary. However, topping the fish with a fresh salsa is also outstanding.
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