Poached Cod with Mustard Sauce

In Recipies on July 27, 2011 at 10:51 am

Poaching is one of my favorite ways to prepare fish.  Properly done, poached fish leaves much of the natural oils inside the flesh of the fish.  This keeps the fish moist, delightfully soft in texture, and extremely healthy to eat.

Salmon lends itself nicely to traditional poaching methods and thin fillets of tilapia are simply delightful when “packet poached” in foil with a bit of curry and lemon juice (recipe published previously on Phyne Dyning).

“Dry” fish, such as cod, present a bit more of a challenge.

Cod has very little oil in its flesh and, unless properly poached, one can drive that little bit of oil into the poaching liquid where it is lost and will leave the cod tough and “dry”.

The answer is to poach the cod at a lower temperature and remove it from the poaching liquid as soon as it is done.  Here, we will begin making the reduction when the cod is almost fully poached by turning the heat off on the fish and allowing it to finish unmolested.

As with many poached fish and seafood dishes, the following recipe’s “secret” is a flavorful court bouillon (COOR boo-yon, meaning short broth).

A court bouillon is typically a very aromatic acidified stock (often using lemon juice or white wine) that is cooked only for a short time.  It is not served directly with the dish.  It may be served, however, reduced (as in this recipe), mixed with a roux (as part of the dish) or with additional flavorings and served alongside the dish (as in this recipe).

(NOTE:  For readers fond of shrimp, this recipe may be adapted to make a wonderful grilled shrimp entree.  Cut the recipe for the court bouillon by 2/3 and make the buttered reduction with ½ of the mustard called for in this recipe.  Grill the shrimp, brushing the mustarded “beurre blanc” on the shrimp before turning and apply several times until the shrimp are fully cooked.)

Cod works well for this dish because cod lacks an overwhelming fishy flavor that would detract from the delicate flavors imparted by the poaching liquid and the buttery smoothness of the accompanying sauce.

Sound like fun?

You bet!

Here we go:

1 to 1 ½ lb cod fillets or loins

1 to 1 ½ lemon (juiced and reserve zest)

1 C Italian parsley, chopped

6 C water (see below)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2-3 bay leaves

¼ tsp ground allspice

1 tsp whole black peppercorns (gently cracked with a mallet)

2 TBS grainy brown mustard (or dijon mustard)

¼ C butter

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

The amount of water you will use depends on how thick the fish is and how big the pot is that you are using to poach it in.  I suggest a (covered) vessel big enough to place all of the fish in without crowding and deep enough that the thickest fish portion will be covered by at least one-half inch of poaching liquid.  A stockpot works well.  Or, splurge on a fish-poaching pan with a rack.

How much water?

Simply pour water into your cooking vessel until it is a depth that is at least ½” over the top of the fish (But do not add the fish to make this measurement.)  Now measure the water (or estimate it).  If the amount of water used is significantly greater than 5-6 cups, you should adjust the ingredients for the court bouillon upward proportionally to avoid making it too weak.  Generally, six cups will work.  Do not obsess on this!

Place the zest from the lemon into the poaching vessel.  If the lemon was waxed, carefully scrub the wax away before zesting!  Add in the onion, bay leaves, allspice, peppercorns, lemon juice, and parsley.  Add the water and bring to a gentle boil.  Boil gently for 20-30 minutes.  Reduce heat and allow the liquid to cool to about 160F.  The liquid should be steaming well, but no bubbles should be present.  Add in the fish pieces and add more water if the fish is not entirely covered by the liquid.  Cover.  After five minutes, check the temperature of the water (should be around 160F) and adjust the heat as needed and re-cover the pot.  Total cooking time will vary from 7-12 minutes.  A clear glass lid is a real lifesaver for home chefs making this dish!  When the fish appears opaque and firm, fork-test it.  Turn off the heat when it just begins to flake at the ends.  The center will not be done, but it will finish cooking while you make the reduction and mustard sauce.

Carefully spoon off 1 cup of the poaching liquid into a small saucepan.  Bring to a rapid boil and add the mustard.  Reduce the liquid to ½ cup (watch carefully!) and then stir (or whisk) in the butter.  Check for seasoning and add salt/pepper as needed.

By this time, the fish will be fully cooked and not overcooked and dry.  Remove to a plate and spoon a bit of the reduction/mustard sauce over the fish.  Serve the remaining reduction in a small ramekin at the table.

I recently served this with a cooked medley of wild and basmati rice, alongside steamed Normandy-style vegetables flavored with a bit of anchovy paste, melted butter, and dill (see recipe elsewhere on Phyne Dyning).  Accompany with a small garden salad and a bit of white wine.

The recipe and adjunct instructions for this dish may be a little intimidating.  But, once you make this at least one time, it will take about 45-60 minutes of total time to make this wonderfully delicate fish entrée.


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