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Cooking Techniques: The Ultimate Guide to Poaching

Ryan Garcia

May 2, 2022

Many restaurants across Texas serve a cracking eggs benedict. And in some parts of the state, they’ve managed to make the dish even tastier. How? By making it Tex-Mex, of course! A Tex-Mex eggs benedict features salsa, sausage, cilantro, and black beans, and I can’t think of a better way to start a Sunday morning.

Speaking of which, I love how a relaxed weekend gives me that bit more time in the kitchen. If I’m preparing a lazy brunch, then I like to top off my Tex-Mex eggs ben with some sliced chorizo or, if I’m feeling particularly fancy, a hunk of boneless rib-eye. 

But naturally, one of the main reasons I’m such an eggs benedict fan is because of the poached eggs in the dish. Poached is my favorite way to have my eggs, but this cooking style can be applied to a wide variety of food products. 

Another of my favorite dishes that makes use of this cooking technique is a simple poached chicken salad. This healthy lunch or dinnertime option is made up of poached chicken breast, generous amounts of greens, and a delicious homemade vinaigrette.

But enough about my poaching antics. In this article, we offer an in-depth look into the cooking method that is poaching. 

what is poaching texas

What is poaching?

In simple terms, poaching is a moist-heat method of cooking, which is characterized by submerging food in a liquid at a low temperature.

Other common moist-heat cooking methods include boiling, simmering, braising, stewing, steaming, pot roasting, and en papillote. Basically, all these moist-heat methods use steam, water or liquid to transfer heat to, and thus cook, food.

Poaching is a common way of cooking the fragile proteins present in eggs, chicken and meat, as well as those in fresh vegetables. The low heat allows the proteins to break down without removing the moisture from the food, as opposed to high-heat cooking methods that often result in food products, especially meat, drying out.  

With poaching, the lower cooking temperature preserves the flavor and structure of the dish. In general, poaching temperatures range from 140–190°F. What’s more, cooking times are shorter in comparison to those needed for other moist-heat cooking methods.

why poaching texas

Advantages of poaching your food

Many claim that poaching can lead to a more flavorful dish. And when it comes to meat, textures can be made wonderfully delicate and tender by using the poaching method.

Other advantages of poaching include the following:

Food retains moisture. Meats and fishes that are poached are praised for their succulent, tender texture. The low cooking temperatures also minimize the risk of your food being overcooked.

A delicate cooking technique. Unlike other cooking techniques, poaching cannot be rushed. Though you may have to wait a little bit longer for your dish to be ready, if done properly, poaching can deliver truly delicious results. Moreover, in comparison to other moist heat cooking methods, poaching is relatively quick.

Flavorful, low fat and healthy. When it comes to cooking meat or fish, the lower temperatures used for poaching ensure that the flavors in your dish are maintained, as the proteins don’t dry out. And since poaching helps to retain flavor, we don’t need to add any fat to bring taste to the dish. 

simmering water poaching texas

The science behind poaching

One of the most popular food products to poach are eggs. So, what exactly happens when you poach an egg?

Poaching has a special effect on the proteins in an egg. The egg white is composed of water and proteins, and when these proteins are subjected to heat, they change in structure – otherwise known as “denaturing”. As a result, these proteins can no longer be dissolved in liquid, with the ovalbumin proteins causing the egg white to solidify. 

The perfect poached egg is one that is cooked in the quickest time possible, before any of the egg white has the chance to dissipate into the liquid in the pot.  

These proteins can no longer be dissolved in liquid. Ovalbumin (the main protein found in egg white) causes the egg white to solidify and look cooked. The interior of the egg is trapped inside while the heat cooks the exterior layer. Successful poaching involves having this process take place as quickly as possible, before the egg whites dissipate into the liquid in the pot.

Ovalbumin denatures in solutions with an acidic pH. In this way, it’s common to add vinegar to the water in which an egg is being poached. 

As for fish and chicken, poaching also denatures the proteins in the product. This is important for keeping the moisture locked in the meat, thereby maintaining its texture and structure. Some delicate meats like various kinds of fish – mackerel, for example – become rather flavorless when dry, thus poaching prevents this undesirable texture from forming. 

poached fish texas

What foods are best for poaching

According to culinary experts, there are specific foods (other than eggs!) that cook perfectly when poached. 

Fish: Salmon, mackerel and tuna come out fabulously succulent when poached.

Poultry meat: Chicken breasts and thighs, turkey breasts, duck breasts, and pheasant meat can all be poached nicely. 

Pork: The tenderloin is especially good for poaching.

Vegetables: Asparagus, potatoes and carrots can all be poached

Fruits: Apples and pears, as well as stone fruits such as peaches and apricots.

Other: Mushrooms and tofu don’t tend to be poached, but they are delicious when prepared this way.   

poaching eggs texas

Types of poaching

There are three common types of poaching that you should know about. These are shallow poaching, submersion poaching, and butter/oil poaching.

Shallow poaching involves poaching the meat while it’s partially submerged in a liquid. This liquid can be a broth or what they call a cuisson. Typically, a shallow cooking vessel like a straight-sided sauté pan is used. Shallow poaching is used to prepare chicken breasts, shellfish and boneless cuts of fish.

Submersion poaching is better suited to cooking large cuts of meat. In this technique, the meat or fish is fully submerged in a court bouillon. If you’re dealing with a particularly delicate piece of fish, then you can wrap the filet in a cheesecloth to preserve its shape.

Butter or oil poaching is a variation on submersion poaching in which animal fats such as butter are used instead of water or broth. This is a particularly successful way of cooking lean meats and lobster. The meat should be seared first before being poached.

A confit is also a variation on this cooking method. 

poaching liquids texas

Poaching liquids

Water isn’t the only liquid you can use to poach your meats, eggs and veggies. 

Wine, wine vinegar or combination of the two are often used as a liquid for shallow poaching. 

Court bouillon is a mixture of water, wine or wine vinegar, salt and herbs, and is used in submersion poaching. 

If you want your poached dish to be succulent, moist and soft, then olive oil is a brilliant option. I recommend using a high-quality refined olive oil for the best poaching results.

Milk is another good poaching liquid, especially when it comes to cooking fish products. Italian cuisine is known for its meat dishes poached in milk. The lactic acid in milk acts as a superb meat tenderizer – in fact, you can buy inexpensive cuts of fish and meat and through poaching them in milk, achieve beautifully delicate textures. 

A traditional Italian dish, Maiale al Latte (milk-braised pork), involves using milk to poach pork shoulder, an inexpensive cut of meat. 

Fumet, a flavorful fish stock, makes a particularly good poaching liquid for seafood.

How much poaching liquid do I need?

The quantity of poaching liquid you need is dependent on how much food you’re planning to poach. Make sure your pot is large enough to hold all the food and liquid you need without it overflowing or becoming overcrowded. 

How much liquid is needed also depends on what poaching method you’re going to use – e.g., submersion poaching requires far more liquid than shallow poaching, as it’s important to cover all the food product.  

How can you tell when your poached food is ready?

To be sure that your food is ready, use a thermometer to measure both the temperature of the water and the food’s internal temperature. You can also determine whether your food has been properly poached using a time-based approach, but nothing beats the accuracy of a thermometer.

For example, when it comes to poaching chicken breast, your thermometer should read 165°F when poked into the thickest part of the meat. Poaching chicken usually takes around 10 to 14 minutes.

Poached fish is ready once its internal temperature reaches 140 °F. Don’t let the water boil – just make sure it’s simmering lightly. 

Poached pork can be served once the internal temperature of the meat has reached 140–150°F. You can check whether the pork is ready by piercing the thickest area of the meat and making sure the juices are running clear.

Time to poach!

I see my kitchen as a place of learning. A spot where I can experiment and find out more about various cooking methods in order to make our family meals more exciting and flavorful. If I’m looking to create a juicy, succulent meat or fish dish, then poaching is one of my go-to cooking techniques. Not only is it a healthy way of preparing a wholesome meal, but it also brings out the natural flavors of the food product without the need for excess oils and fats.