The difference between boiling and poaching is the temperature in the liquids. When poaching, you are merely simmering and the food gets cooked slowly preserving moisture. When you boil foods the temperature of the liquid is at the maximum 100° C and is too fierce to cook foods evenly — delicate foods such as eggs and fish will fall apart. Boiling foods also depletes the foods of many of the essential vitamins and minerals.
The key to poaching is to ensure that the liquid does not come to a boil. The only exception being eggs — because eggs cook quickly, the liquid is first brought to a boil and then turned off. When poaching eggs, vinegar is added to help keep the whites in tact (about 1 t. to 2-3 cups of liquid).
1. First choose a pot for the stovetop to poach. The pot should be a bit larger than what you are going to poach and there should be enough room to easily cover the ingredients with about an inch of water or stock.
2. The choice of liquid and flavourings is what poaching is all about and central to the preparation of the dish. Stock or broth adds instant flavor to the meal. Chicken stock for chicken, beef stock for beef, vegetable stock for fish. Ideally this should be done the day before. And, of course, water will always work.
3. Next, you need an acid. Wine, lemon juice and vinegar are all good choices. Add about 1/4 cup of acid to each quart of your stock or water. You should be able to taste the acid in the liquid. Finally, add your flavourings.
4. Add herbs, spices, and vegetables to the poaching liquid, the meat will absorb them. Good things to add include: basil, chives, coriander, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, onions, carrots. When using fresh herbs, don’t worry about chopping things up — just place it in the pot as is.
5. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil, and then add the raw material to cook which should be completely covered by the poaching liquid by about one inch. This ensures that the things cooks evenly. After the food is added, reduce the heat to the proper poaching temperature. An instant read thermometer comes in handy here. If poaching fish, the temperature of the liquid should be maintained between 80ºC and 85ºC. The poaching liquid for chicken should be between 70ºC and 80ºC. If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t worry. Just keep the temperature below that of a simmer. You may get a couple of bubbles but the liquid should be bubbling much and the surface will appear to be flowing.
Cooking time varies depending on the size of the meat you are cooking. Typically, a 250 gram portion of chicken will take about 15-20 minutes and an equal size portion of fish about 10 minutes.
These tried and tested recipes are easy to make and make for a low calorie dinner. Serve with roasted vegetables of your choice.
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
firm pears – 2, peeled leaving the stem intact
4. Remove the pears from the refrigerator, spoon the sauce over the pears and serve.
Published in Pune Mirror, July 11, 2011