Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
If poaching isn’t a staple in your repertoire outside of eggs, consider that this method has several upsides that are especially helpful for home cooks. Although the term arguably has a chef-y, slightly intimidating aura, that doesn’t reflect how simple the technique is to execute. It’s fast and easy, only requires one pot and creates zero splatter or smoke.
Since poaching involves submerging the food in hot liquid, the flavors in that liquid will lightly infuse into whatever’s simmering within it. In this case, that’s cod, though you can use virtually any mild white fish here. Just avoid particularly thin fillets that are more prone to flaking apart in the poaching liquid. I went with a straightforward combination of water, dry white wine and butter, along with some fresh tarragon, and seasoned it with salt. Those subtle enhancers keep the spotlight on the cod itself, but you can always go bolder and play around with adding other liquids or aromatics to the mix, like ginger, vinegar or different kinds of herbs.
Unlike fish-cooking methods that yield golden-brown flesh or crispy skin, the goal of poaching is to achieve a tender, silky-smooth texture, while maintaining the nuanced flavors of the fish, for a true melt-in-your-mouth quality.
That, in turn, calls for a topping or a side dish with some crunch. Cucumbers do the trick as part of a simple salad with avocados, grapefruit and orange. Citrus and avocados are a match made in heaven—the fattiness of avocado is the perfect foil to citrus’ bracing sweet-tartness—and together they go great with fish. Grapefruit also brings a lovely balanced bitterness. While you certainly want creaminess from the avocados, try to find ones that are on the less-ripe side of ripe. That’ll make them easier to peel and slice without mushing them.
The salad gets dressed in a vinaigrette with lime and fresh tarragon, the latter lending licorice notes similar to anise. You should have some extra dressing left over, which you can serve alongside as a light sauce if you want to drizzle more over the fish.
The dish should be served with a dry white wine, preferably one with characteristic citrus notes, such as a Riesling. I paired it with a more recent vintage of Thirsty Owl Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2017 from New York; light-bodied enough to avoid overwhelming the delicate poached cod, it delivered Riesling’s trusty brightness to suit the high-acid citrus salad.
8 & $20: Poached Cod with Citrus Salad
Pair with a dry Riesling with high acidity and citrus flavors, similar to Thirsty Owl Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2017 (87 points, $20).
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Approximate food costs: $30
- 1 lime, zest plus 2 teaspoons juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt for dressing, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt for poaching liquid (plus more for seasoning fish)
- 2 sprigs fresh tarragon, plus 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon leaves
- Black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter
- 4 cod fillets
- 1 orange
- 1 grapefruit
- 1 cucumber
- 1 avocado
1. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice and zest, vinegar and vegetable oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and stir in chopped tarragon leaves. Set aside while you poach the fish.
2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, add wine, butter, tarragon sprigs, 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to incorporate the melting butter, then reduce heat to a simmer. Lightly score each cod fillet with two or three shallow slices to help prevent curling. Season with salt and pepper and gently add to the poaching liquid. Let cook for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on thickness, then carefully remove with a slotted spatula or spoon and transfer to a plate or cutting board to rest.
3. For the orange, grapefruit and cucumber, peel and slice into thin rounds, then cut into quarters. Likewise with the avocado, halve and pit it, then peel before thinly slicing into halves, then quarters. Layer the fruit and cucumber on each plate and spoon some dressing over the top. Or, add the cut-up fruit to a large bowl with some of the dressing—enough to coat all the pieces without drenching them—and toss together before plating. Place a cod fillet on each plate and spoon a little bit of dressing over those too. Serves 4.