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Perfectly poached fish is unbelievably tender and melts in your mouth. Using water that's lightly seasoned with white wine, lemon, onion, and garlic, this quick and easy technique turns out tender, flavorful fish in just 15 minutes.
For a delicious light meal, poached fish pairs well with a salad like our arugula and wild rice salad or baby kale salad with grapefruit, avocado, and almonds.
Poached fish is underrated, in our opinion. It's not necessarily the fanciest or prettiest way to cook fish but when it's done right, it's amazing. Perfectly poached fish has a delicate flavor and almost melts in your mouth.
It's a healthier way to cook fish and the technique is simple, but it can be challenging to do it right. We've poached fish many times now using this no-fail technique, and we think you'll fall in love with the results.
Why you'll love this poached fish
- It makes delicate and delicious fish every time
- It's healthy – with no oil and only fresh flavorful ingredients
- It's a quick and easy technique for weeknights (or anytime)
What's the trick to perfect poached fish?
The trick to perfectly poached fish is to cook it gently over low heat with no lid or cover. Don't bring your pot to a boil, or even a simmer for that matter. This is really important so the fish doesn't turn out tough or rubbery.
Fish is perfectly cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. We use an instant-read thermometer and we highly recommend one for this cooking technique to avoid overcooking your fish.
The temperature of the water should remain at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are familiar with sous vide cooking then this concept will ring a bell. Basically, if the water's temperature never rises above (or much above) 140 degrees, the fish will never overcook. Even if you leave the fish in the pan a little longer than necessary, the fish will remain perfectly cooked.
Ingredients for perfect poached fish
For the poaching liquid, we make a simple savory broth using water, white wine, lemon, and a few aromatics. This helps to infuse the fish with flavor instead of using a sauce.
Here's what you'll need to make this perfectly poached fish dish:
- White wine – white wine adds dimension and is used to build flavor in the poaching liquid.
- Onion + garlic – these classic aromatics add a flavor kick. You could also use shallots.
- Lemon – adds brightness and a wonderful citrus taste that compliments the fish.
- Sea salt – to enhance all the other flavors.
- Fish fillets – you can use any meatier fish like salmon or trout, just steer clear of thinner fillets of white fish because they're likely to fall apart.
How to poach fish perfectly every time
This quick and easy poaching technique turns out tender, elegant fish every time. Here's a breakdown of the steps:
- Start by heating the liquid. Add all the ingredients (except the fish) along with a couple of inches of water to a large skillet with high sides. Heat until it reaches the 140 degrees Fahrenheit you're looking for.
- Slide the fish into the pot and adjust the heat to ensure the water stays at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The fish is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're not using a thermometer, test to see if it flakes easily.
- That's it! Carefully remove the fish from the poaching liquid and serve it immediately.
Full recipe instructions are in the recipe card below.
How do you know when the water is at the perfect temperature?
An instant-read thermometer is your best bet. Simply hold the end in the water until you get a reading then adjust your stove's element until the water stays at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
What if I don't have an instant-read thermometer?
You'll need to watch the water carefully. The water in the pot will start moving around, and you'll see steam start to rise. You might notice 2 or 3 small bubbles, but no more than that. If the water is simmering, it is too hot. At the perfect temperature, you'll also be able to dip your finger into the water very briefly without burning it (We tested this one out, but please, be careful and use common sense).
How long do I cook the fish?
That depends on the size of the piece of fish you're cooking. The fish you see in the photos took 10 minutes, but if your fish is thicker, it will take longer to reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember, it won't overcook if the water temperature stays at 140 degrees, so this is a time you can err on the side of caution and not worry about overcooking your fish.
What kinds of fish are best for poaching?
We prefer meatier fish like salmon or steelhead trout. Halibut and arctic char are great poached, too. We tend to steer away from poaching thin fish, like snapper or tilapia, as they're too delicate and can fall apart. That's only a personal preference though, and not a hard and fast rule.
What to serve with perfect poached fish
Poached fish is a versatile main that's easy to serve with most vegetable, potato, and grain sides. It's also tasty on its own with a simple green salad. Try it with a squeeze of charred lemon juice, garnish with some fresh dill or parsley, or a drizzle of lemony hollandaise!
Vegetable sides that pair well with poached fish
- Roasted Mini Potatoes with Herbs and Garlic
- Crispy Parmesan Brussels Sprouts
- Garlic Herb Carrot Fries
- Green Beans with Garlic Scapes Aioli
Grain dishes that go well with poached fish
Favorite fish recipes
- Lemon Pepper Fish
- Baked Fish with Lemon Garlic Butter
- Salt and Pepper Fish
- Beer Battered Fish Tacos
- Favorite Lingcod Recipe
- ½ cup white wine
- ½ medium onion (sliced)
- 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
- ½ lemon (sliced)
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 4 fillets fish (of your choice (see notes))
- Put all the ingredients, except the fish, in a large skillet with high sides and add at least 2 inches of water. Heat the water over medium heat until it reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or until it is steaming, the water is moving around but not bubbling. You should be able to dip your finger into the water very briefly without burning it. (Be careful if you do this, though. We don't want you to hurt yourself!) Reduce the heat to medium-low.½ cup white wine, ½ medium onion, 2 cloves garlic, ½ lemon, ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Once the water is at 140 degrees, slide the fish into the pot. The trick here is that you want the water to remain at a fairly constant 140 degrees so that the fish doesn't overcook.4 fillets fish
- The fish is ready once it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Without a thermometer, you can test for doneness by seeing if the flesh flakes easily from the fish. A salmon fillet will take approximately 10 minutes to poach. The poaching time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish. Remember that as long as the water does not rise above 140 degrees, you will not overcook your fish.
- Carefully remove the fish from the poaching liquid using a slotted spatula and serve it immediately.
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.