Olive Oil Primer: Poaching Seafood at Home in EVOO

We’ve been test driving a simple method to cook seafood by poaching it in extra virgin olive oil. It produces phenomenal results. The halibut we poached was moist. It had a rich, yet delicate, flavor. Our nine-year-old recipe tester declared: “Good fish!” An added bonus: You can reuse the EVOO.

Culinary pros are big fans of poaching in olive oil. Seafood guru Dory Ford says fish is perfect for poaching in a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. “Fish is mild and it’s fairly neutral in its flavor. So it’s going to take on the flavor characteristics of the olive oil,” says Ford, the chef-owner of Aqua Terra Culinary, a Pebble Beach, Calif., firm that handles catering, event planning, and menu consulting.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman writes that “dense, white-fleshed fish like halibut and monkfish “come with a built-in difficulty: They must be cooked through to be tender, but such thorough cooking tends to make them dry. Among the techniques that solve this problem is one that is not used as often as it might be: poaching in olive oil.”

We tried Bittman’s recipe for poaching halibut. We didn’t have access to halibut steaks, as he suggests, so we used fillets. We used two cups of our California Everyday EVOO. Following the recipe, we carefully heated the oil in a deep skillet until it reached 200 degrees Fahrenheit. We used an instant read thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature.

We then slid our halibut fillets into the EVOO along with some root vegetables for added flavor: carrots, shallots and garlic. Use as many vegetables as the pan will hold.

Using our thermometer, we kept a careful eye on the temperature to ensure it stayed within a 180-200 degree F. band. One thing chefs tell us: Be patient and avoid pushing up the temperature to speed the poaching process.

“You lose some of that silky texture and (the fish) become firmer,” says Gregory Strickland, an executive chef for Vi, the upscale senior living center chain formerly known as Classic Residence by Hyatt. Strickland heads the kitchen at the Vi in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

After about 15 minutes we carefully flipped our halibut and continued poaching until the fish and vegetables were tender enough to be pierced through with the end of a thin-bladed knife, about 25 minutes.

The halibut, pictured above, was among the most succulent fish dishes we’ve ever had. The root vegetables that accompanied the fish in the pan also were delicious.

To save your EVOO for future use, chefs recommends carefully pouring the cooled oil back into a container such as a jar or bottle, while leaving any sediment or juices in the pan. We strained the oil through a fine-mesh strainer. Keep the oil in the refrigerator. “It extends its life and keeps it fresh,” says Ford, a leader in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program which promotes the use of sustainable seafood.

We used our leftover EVOO to poach Coho salmon, which also was excellent.

What other seafood is good for poaching? Ford also recommends lobster, California Albacore tuna, and Pacific white sea bass. If you want to be more adventurous, Bittman recommends octopus.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch