Friday 18 April 2014

Poached Arctic Char with Roasted Potatoes and Shaved Asparagus

Poaching is a technique whereby an ingredient or ingredients are cooked in simmering liquid (but not boiling). It is a gentle cooking method that creates mouth watering results. One protein that takes remarkably well to poaching is fish. The direct transfer of heat from the surrounding liquid permeates through the flesh of the fish making it juicy, tender and flaky while keeping the fish quite lean. You can add all kinds of different flavours to your cooking liquid as well. It's a flavourful and healthy way to experiment with cooking techniques at home.

I went for a French flavour profile with my poached fish. I used water and white wine (after I burned off the alcohol) and added quartered shallots, crushed garlic, parsley stalks, bay leaves, peppercorns and a pinch of salt. You can do anything that you like. Everyone knows that fish goes brilliantly with lemon so many people add slices of lemon to their poaching liquid. Personally, I don't because I find lemon goes too bitter when it's cooked. Instead, I add fresh lemon at the end. This method works for just about all kinds of fish. Here I used a fillet of arctic char, which is an oily, red fish. Poaching works best on fillets of fish with the skin still on. The skin helps to keep the fish from falling apart when it's cooking. After it has finished poaching, the skin will very easily peel off, allowing you to flake the fish apart as you wish. You can leave it whole if you prefer, but I do recommend removing the skin before serving. After poaching fish skin is kinda wet and mushy without being all that appetizing. 

To start, I added a cup of white wine to a hot pan. The wine boiled instantly. I let it boil for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol. Whenever you are burning off alcohol it will emit somewhat of a toxic smell. I don't mean that it's actually toxic but the smell is quite foul and has a seemingly toxic smell. Once that smell disappears and all that's left is the smell of wine flavour then the alcohol has successfully been burned off. Judge by smell rather than tme, but it should take around a couple of minutes.

Then I added just under 2 cups of cold water. You want the total amount of liquid to just come up to the height of the fish in the pan. This will depend on the size of the fish you are preparing so the liquid measurements will vary, just don't use more wine than water otherwise the sweetness will be overbearing. It's also important that you add cold water. We needed the wine to boil in order to burn off the alcohol but in order to poach we need it at a gentle simmer. The cold water will help reduce the temperature of the wine once the alcohol has boiled off. Once the cold water has been added you can add your flavouring agents. In this case my quartered shallots, crushed garlic, parsley stalks, two bay leaves, peppercorns and salt.

Once your liquid comes up to a gentle simmer, add your fillet of fish. The entire fillet must be evenly submerged so if the fillet is larger than your pan you'll have to cut it in two pieces. Keep the liquid at a simmer and allow the fish to poach for about ten minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork. If any part of the fillet is above the liquid, spoon some of the liquid over the exposed area several times throughout the poaching process.

After removing the fish from the poaching liquid with a slotted spatula, remove the skin. The skin will easily detach from the fillet. The best option is to pinch a corner and gently pull the skin away. Then you can serve the fillet as is or flake it as you wish.

For the asparagus, it's best to use thick varieties. This technique will work better than if you use skinny asparagus. Wash and dry before shaving.


Hold the woody end of the asparagus and use it as a handle. Using a speed peeler, shave away thin ribbons of the asparagus. Eventually you will come to a point where you won't be able to shave anymore but there will be leftover asparagus. To avoid wasting, you could reserve them and use them to make vegetable stock or a nice puréed soup. Or if you're like me you'll just munch of them as you work. Whatever you do, don't let anything go to waste!

Dress the asparagus shavings with a sharp, acidic vinaigrette. I used a fallback favourite of mine, tarragon mustard and white wine vinegar. You can check out the recipe here. In this version, I added very thinly sliced shallot to my dressing at the end. Add enough of the dressing to just coat the asparagus. Toss with your fingers and leave to marinate for 2 or 3 minutes. During this time the shavings will soften and wilt a little so they will become malleable enough to form into curls and such. This makes a great salad on its own and you can add whatever else you like to it. In this example it's being used as an accent to a dish.


For the potatoes, I cut them into equal sized pieces so they will cook evenly. You can choose to peel them or not but leaving the skin on will add texture, colour and nutrients. I parboiled them in salted water for 6-7 minutes. Then I poured them into a colander to drain. For best results, let the potatoes steam in the colander for a couple of minutes and then give them a shake. This will chuff them up by causing the starch of the potato to create almost like a fuzz on the surface. That fuzzy starch will turn into crispy crunchiness after it's been roasted. Turn the potatoes onto a baking sheet and lightly coat with olive oil. 

You can use any spices or herbs that you want at this point. I added a few sprigs of fresh thyme (rosemary would be incredible here) with some paprika, cayenne, fennel seeds, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Give the potatoes a good mixing so everything is incorporated. This is totally optional, but I had some rendered duck fat and dotted the spiced potatoes with that before roasting. Place the potatoes in a preheated 375F/190C oven to finish cooking. 

That covers all the elements of this dish. The only extra steps that I took was adding some fresh squeezed lemon juice to the fish at the end and added some fresh parsley to the dish.

I hope that I have inspired you to try at least one of the three techniques covered in this post. They all worked fantastically together but they are not limited to each other. Feel free to incorporate them into an upcoming meal of your own at home.

I welcome question and comments with open arms. If you don't have any questions, don't hesitate to give me some love (or hate, whichever you do) as feedback below. 

In the meantime, stay tuned for more posts this weekend. Happy Easter to those who are observing it and keep healthy, happy and well fed!


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