Last night I poached a couple of salmon fillets using Thomas Keller‘s method from Ad Hoc at Home. Well, I didn’t actually use his method, since I don’t have a working thermometer and his method depends entirely on taking the temperature of the poaching liquid and the fish. (I really need to replace my meat thermometer.) I just eyeballed it, and it turned out really good anyway, very moist and perfectly cooked.
The recipe was super-simple. I’m actually surprised by how simple many of the recipes in Ad Hoc at Home are, given Keller’s reputation. It calls for a court bouillon, or a quick broth, as the poaching liquid (I’ve included my version below). Poach the salmon in the court bouillon until it is cooked through, sprinkle it with salt and serve hot or cold (you could serve with a vinaigrette or mayonnaise if you choose to).
Alongside it I serve some brussels sprouts that I had roasted. A recipe really isn’t necessary. I sprinkled the whole sprouts with salt, pepper, olive oil and diced bacon. I roasted them at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. My husband and I both agreed that the flavor was very strong, and while some may prefer their brussels sprouts that way, we like them better cooked in liquid, when they have a milder taste. So I probably won’t make them that way again.
Tonight I have a crowd coming over for dinner. I have broken out the slow cooker to make a sausage minestrone, so I don’t have to bother too much about dinner at dinnertime. More details tomorrow.
This is a quick broth, useful for poaching seafood or vegetables, or as a base for a seafood soup. In a stockpot, combine:
- 2 quarts water
- 2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1½ cups onion, chopped
- 10 peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 thyme sprig
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add:
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- 1 halved lemon — squeeze in the juice, then add the lemon halves
Bring to a simmer again. Strain, if desired, and use in the recipe. If used for poaching, strain afterward and refrigerate. The broth can be used one more time.
Glazing vegetables is an extremely useful technique for punching up an otherwise boring vegetable side dish. I used to avoid recipes that used this technique, because I associated glazed vegetables — specifically, carrots — with a sugary, syrupy sweet dish. If I wanted to eat dessert, I’d have ice cream.
But I was wrong. The traditional method for glazing requires very little or no sugar. The technique relies on reducing a flavorful cooking liquid, such as chicken stock, to a glaze and thickening it with butter. While this technique works very nicely on carrots, many other vegetables can also benefit from it, such as brussels sprouts, pearl onions, sweet potatoes, turnips and winter squash. The other night, I made some delicious green beans also using this technique. So I encourage experimentation.
Here is how you do it:
- Prepare the vegetable by slicing or cutting into bite-sized pieces, if necessary.
- In a large skillet, add the vegetable, a pat of butter (about 1 tbsp.), salt and just enough good (preferably homemade) chicken stock to halfway cover.
- Bring the liquid to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer the vegetables until tender, adding a little more liquid if necessary.
- When the vegetables are done, raise the heat to medium-high and add 1-2 tbsp. butter. If desired, stir in 1-2 tbsp. sugar.
- Stir until the liquid reduces to a glaze coating the vegetables; there should be very little liquid left, and the glaze should be thickened and browned.
- Remove from the heat and stir in a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice to finish.
There are probably two main ways we all learned how to cook vegetables with liquid: boiling and steaming. But both of these techniques have disadvantages. Boiling vegetables in a lot of water often yields overcooked, mushy results that many of us remember (and hate) from our childhoods. And steaming all too often lets the flavor and moisture escape into the air rather than keeping it in the vegetables.
Lately, I have been simmering vegetables in an attempt to retain moisture and flavor without cooking the vegetables to death, and I’ve loved the results. Simmering is a hybrid of boiling and steaming that takes advantage of the best aspects of both.
Simmering involves cooking vegetables in a smaller amount of liquid than boiling them, and at a lower temperature, enough to keep a gentle simmer going. The pot is covered, trapping the steam and cooking the vegetables in less time so that their vibrant colors are retained.
Liquids other than water can be used to add more flavor. My favorites have been chicken stock, apple cider and orange juice. Flavorings can also be added to the liquid, such as soy sauce, herbs or garlic. Once the vegetables are cooked, if you like, raise the heat, uncover the pan and reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce to retain every bit of flavor.
Here are the basic steps for simmering vegetables:
- Cut the vegetables into smallish pieces, if necessary, such as cubes.
- Add the vegetables to the pot with enough liquid just to cover them halfway.
- Add a pat of butter or a small amount of olive oil, salt and other seasonings as desired.
- Bring the liquid to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are just tender (see below for suggested cooking times).
- If desired, uncover the pot, raise the heat and let the liquid reduce for a sauce.
- Serve as is or with the cooking liquid, or toss with a vinaigrette, flavored butter or a little lemon juice and fresh herbs.
Not all vegetables lend themselves to this cooking method, but many do. Here are some of my favorites:
- Simmer less than 5 minutes: asparagus, bok choy, corn (off the cob), green beans
- Simmer 5-10 minutes: artichoke hearts, broccoli florets, brussels sprouts, carrots (baby or cut into rounds)
- Simmer 10-15 minutes: cabbage, summer squash, baby zucchini
- Simmer 15-30 minutes: new potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash