Poaching fish is simple and easy. You’ll love this juicy & flavorful salmon dish. Once you learn the gentle cooking technique of poaching, you can use it for poaching any fish and even chicken breasts. Follow this step-by-step guide to get ready for dinner in 30 minutes or less.
Have you always wanted to love wild sockeye salmon or coho salmon but found them to be dry?
Do you shy away from salmon and other fish because you’ve found them to be bland and so dry that they get stuck in your throat?
It could be your cooking technique. It’s easy to overcook fish.
Fish is a delicate protein that requires a fast and gentle cooking method.
Learn how to poach salmon in this recipe so you can enjoy flavorful salmon that’s juicy and packed with moisture.
Best kind of salmon to poach
You can poach any kind of salmon. My favorite species to poach is wild sockeye salmon because it’s low in fat, which makes it a delicate protein that perfectly fits the criteria for poaching.
Pink salmon, coho salmon, and Atlantic salmon, would also be good candidates for poaching.
NOTE: I prefer saving king salmon for frying and grilling. But you can poach king salmon too.
You can poach any cut of salmon: Steaks, filets, and even whole salmon work.
Skin on or off? It doesn’t matter. I usually leave the skin on because it’s less work to remove the skin on cooked salmon.
TIP: I buy vacuum-packed frozen wild salmon ever since I heard this interview with Paul Greenberg on NPR Fresh Air. Frozen salmon is usually better quality than fresh salmon (unless you’re buying fresh salmon from July-August). It’s also cheaper and has a lower carbon footprint.
If you have court bouillon ready, it’s the best poaching liquid for salmon because it’s the most flavorful with the ideal balance of aromatics and acid.
RELATED: Check out more French recipes.
If you don’t have court bouillon at the ready, you could make it quickly by simmering the court bouillon ingredients for 10 minutes and poaching the salmon directly in the liquid.
If you don’t have all the ingredients for court bouillon, you can use whatever broth or stock is in your pantry. That includes chicken broth, fish broth, or vegetable broth.
If you don’t have broth or stock, you can improvise a poaching liquid by adding 2 cups of water, ½ cup of white wine, and ½ cup of white vinegar.
No wine? Just add the ½ cup of vinegar and the juice of a lemon. Add the lemon peel for extra flavor.
You can also use butter as a poaching liquid. Add a few slices of garlic for extra flavor (if you like garlic butter salmon). Check out how to make garlic butter here.
You can play with the poaching liquid to experiment with unique flavors. Considering making a miso broth and adding 3 slices of ginger with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. This would make an umami-packed poaching liquid to give you fish a more Japanese flavor.
You can also try poaching salmon in coconut milk.
Aromatics for the poaching liquid
Here are some ideas for what to put in your poaching liquid to add rich flavors.
NOTE: Even though I use a court bouillon which is already packed with aromatics, I like to add some herbs in my poaching liquid with the salmon because I’ve usually got leftover fresh herbs that I’m eager to use up.
Herbs: Dill, thyme, basil, parsley, sage, lemongrass, cilantro, bay leaves
Spices: Coriander seed, star anise, peppercorns, fennel seeds
Citrus: lemon peel, orange peel, lime peels, a slice of lemon or lime, kaffir lime leaf
Best temperature for poaching salmon
This comprehensive guide on poaching explains why the temperature range 140-180º F / 60-82º C is ideal for poaching salmon.
When I poach salmon, I prefer to stay on the higher end, around 170-180º F / 76-82º C.
Despite my intentions, I’m usually poaching with the heat as low as possible. So my tendency is to stay around 150-160º F / 65-71 ºC, which takes a bit longer to cook the salmon. But I feel the extra time is worth it to reduce the risk of overcooking salmon.
TIP: I recommend starting at the lowest possible temperature. If your poaching liquid appears to struggle to reach even 140º F / 60º C, you can bump up the heat setting notch by notch until you reach about 170-180º F / 76-82º C.
Which heat setting to use?
The bigger the diameter of your pan, the larger the surface area. A big surface area gives the poaching liquid greater chance to evaporate and cool off.
I found that when I poached in smaller and taller sauce pans, I could set the heat to the lowest possible setting.
However, when I used an 11-inch fry pan, I had to set it on medium-low or else the poaching liquid never reached the desired temperature range.
Is poached salmon fully cooked?
According to the USDA, fish reaches a safe temperature for eating when the internal temperature (measured from the thickest part) reaches 145º F / 63º C.
I’d consider salmon cooked as soon as you hit the safe internal temperature.
Since 145º F / 63º C is well within the best poaching temperature range, poaching and sous vide are perfect ways to maintain adequate heat to make sure your fish is fully cooked.
What’s the cooking time?
It takes me about 15-20 minutes to poach salmon. This can be slower if you keep the heat lower.
NOTE: If I’m in a rush, I may turn the heat up to medium to speed the process along. When I’m using medium heat, I don’t multi-task. I watch the salmon and continuously measure the temperature until it’s reached 145º F / 63º C, at which point I lift the salmon out of the poaching liquid.
How to tell when poached salmon is done
I use a meat thermometer to check. I insert the probe into the thickest part of the fish. Once the internal temperature reaches 145º F / 63º C, I consider it done.
As the temperature begins to crawl towards the 145º F / 63º C mark, I’m measuring the fish’s temperature every 2-3 minutes to ensure I don’t over cook.
TIP: The clue I follow on when to start measuring the temperature is noticing that the salmon is turning a pale pink color. When I poke the salmon, it should be firming up. When I insert the probe, it will reveal the inside is also turning pale pink. Once I see these signs, I know the fish is almost done. It’s simply a matter of waiting for the internal temperature to hit the safety line.
Equipment for poaching salmon
I like using my heavy-bottomed Scanpan with tall sides for poaching. The thicker pan provides better heat retention. The tall sides hold the poaching liquid and salmon without any risk of the liquid spilling over.
I used my digital thermometer to keep track of the poaching liquid’s temperature so I knew when to add the salmon. I also periodically stuck the probe into the salmon to check for doneness.
A fish turner was helpful to pick up the salmon and move it to a plate when it was done cooking without having it break apart (mine was a gift but I’d buy this OXO one if I had to pick). You could use a spatula too. However, I find the fish turner is perfectly shaped for the task.
Tips for success
- Lid off: I prefer to poach salmon with an uncovered pan. This allows me to keep an eye on what’s going on as I’m preparing other vegetables or cooking other dishes (if you’re into multi-tasking). If you have a glass lid, you could use it to cover the pan since you can see through it.
- Patience & vigilance: The scariest about poaching was wondering how I’d maintain the constant temperature range without using a sous vide. The first time was the hardest because I didn’t know how it would go. By the third time poaching, it became super easy that I could start to multi-task and cook other dishes at the same time.
- Avoid constant fiddling with heat settings: The hardest part about poaching is getting the temperature to the ideal poaching temperature range. I was tempted to fiddle with the heat settings (turn it up, then turn it down when it got too hot). It became easier to maintain a stable temperature when I didn’t fiddle with the heat settings.
- Scale the recipe: It’s easy to double or triple the recipe. Simply add more poaching liquid and use a bigger pan to hold all the salmon that you want to poach.
Easy poached salmon cooked in white wine with dill
- Frying Pan
- Pan lid
- fish turner
- 1 lb. (454 g) salmon, if using frozen salmon, defrost it overnight in the fridge or in warm water
- Gather the ingredients.
- Add the aromatics to the pan.
- Add the court bouillon to the pan with the aromatics. If you're preparing an impromptu poaching liquid, add the poaching liquid ingredients to the aromatics.
- Heat the poaching liquid until it reaches the ideal poaching temperature range 140-180º F / 60-82º C (I like to aim for 170-180º F / 76-82º C). I use medium heat and cover the pan with a lid to help bring the liquid to temperature.
- Add the salmon to the warmed poaching liquid. The poaching liquid should be steaming and you may see convection happening where the liquid from the bottom of the pan rises to the top. However, the liquid should not be boiling.
- Measure the temperature of the fish at the thickest section. Once it reaches 145º F / 63º C, the salmon is cooked. Remove from the poaching liquid to avoid overcooking.
- Serve the salmon with a sauce. Enjoy your poached salmon!
Can it be made in advance?
Yes, I have poached salmon and eaten the leftovers the next day.
How to store it
Put it in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it.
How to reheat it
I zap it in the microwave for 30 seconds. The goal is to get the fish to room temperature or at least not as chilled as when it comes straight out of the fridge.
But I’m not trying to heat it up because I don’t want to risk overcooking it in the microwave
Can you freeze it?
Yes, you can freeze poached salmon. Defrost frozen poached salmon in the fridge overnight.
NOTE: Freezing poached salmon might give it a mushier texture. Instead of freezing, consider following one of the ideas below to use up leftover salmon.
What to do with leftover poached salmon
If you’ve got leftover poached salmon and you don’t feel like eating it with some sauce, here are ideas on how to use up the leftover salmon.
- Make cream-cheese salmon dip
- Add chunks of poached salmon on top of a bed of leafy greens with this garlic lemon salad dressing
- Flake the salmon using a fork and add the pieces to your quiche (follow this quiche lorraine recipe)
- Make a salmon salad similar to chicken salad by adding mayonnaise, chopped dill, chopped cucumbers, and a squeeze of lemon juice. You can eat “salmon salad” with toast or with a lettuce salad
- Serve poached salmon on top of poached eggs for a deluxe Eggs Benedict
- Make salmon cakes
- Serve poached salmon with hash browns and fried eggs for a luxurious breakfast