POACHING. The "moist heat" technique of poaching was very much a part of the recorded recipes of the ancient world. In one of the earliest cookbooks, the Roman Apicius's De re Coquinaria, recipes for delicacies like Isicia Plena (Dumplings of Pheasant) show that stiff forcemeat dumplings were poached in water seasoned with garum. And certain other savory and sweet recipes, like Aliter Patina Versatilis (A Nut Custard), instructed cooks to pour custard into molds to be placed into pans partially filled with hot water. After the invention of the printing press and the appearance of the first printed cookbook, Le viandier (1490), by the Frenchman Taillevent, the various aspects of poaching found a broader audience. However, it was not until the seventeenth century and the ever-increasing management of fire that poaching as a culinary technique gained in popularity. In 1651, with the printing of original cookbooks in addition to the collected works of the past, recipes began to integrate a repertory of techniques, basic mixtures, and raw materials. Lightly cooking certain ingredients in a small amount of liquid was not only part of a process of making a certain dish, but it also opened the possibility of refining the dish with savory sauces.
When Charles Ranhofer, chef of the famous New York establishment Delmonico's, published The Epicurean in 1893, various poached egg, seafood, and chicken dishes were featured as sophisticated menu offerings. Ten years later in his monumental cookbook Ma Cuisine, Georges-Auguste Escoffier listed 141 variations for oeufs pochés along with fifteen more recipes for cold preparations including en gelée and chaud froid dishes. And when Prosper Montagné published Larousse Gastronomique in 1938, he provided the formulas for several poached egg dishes beginning with oeufs Aladin (poached eggs on a mound of saffron risotto, garnished with sweet peppers, and napped with tomato sauce) and ending with oeufs à la zingara (poached eggs placed on oval fried croutons covered with thin slices of ham, and coated with Zingara sauce, a tomato-flavored demi-glace with a julienne of ham, tongue, and mushrooms). The same sophistication in the utilization of poached fish and poultry could be seen in recipes for filets de soles à la normande and suprêmes de volaille. And with the advent of nouvelle cuisine and especially cuisine minceur (calorie-defused dishes developed by the French chef Michel Guerard) in the 1960s, poaching various ingredients in flavorful liquids and substituting innovative vegetable and herb purées for sauces canonized the technique of poaching as a healthy trend.
In comparing the various examples of "moist heat" cooking, the amount of liquid, the timing, and the temperature are distinguishing factors. In poaching, the item to be cooked is generally submerged entirely in liquid, except in shallow poaching, when the item is only partially submerged in liquid and loosely covered with parchment paper. Timing is critical and depends on the size, density, and ripeness of the item to be cooked. The temperature for poaching registers between 160° and 180°F (71–82°C), and should always be maintained lower than a simmer (185°F [85°C]) to guarantee tenderness.
Although plain water or salt and vinegar-infused water is used in poaching, the liquids more frequently utilized in this cooking method are usually more flavorful. Stock, court bouillon, vegetable juice, vermouth, and various aromatics, such as herbs, spices, and citrus zest, contribute to the taste of the item cooked and also serve as the basis for a congenial sauce to nap the prepared poached fish, poultry, vegetable, fruit, or meat.
Unlike boiling, which requires only water, a pottery or metal pot, and heat to perform, poaching has acquired through the years a distinctive batterie de cuisine. An oblong covered pan called a poacher with handles at both ends and a convenient rack for lifting the prepared item from the pan greatly facilitates cooking a large fish. Egg poachers feature an insert with a specified number of round or oval, often perforated, cups to submerge eggs in a pan of water. Also used are metal rings that contain the entire egg when it is slipped into the water. A specific kind of shallow skillet with sloping sides called a sauteuse is used for poaching smaller items. And to insure even cooking and avoid curdling, various custards, timbales, and terrines are poached in their containers in a bain-marie, or water bath.
Instructions for poaching eggs are varied, many, and often contradictory. Some directions, for instance, recommend adding salt or vinegar to the poaching water; some call for breaking eggs into a saucer before lowering into the water; others for boiling eggs in the shell for ten seconds before breaking and poaching in water; still others for creating a whirlpool in the center of the pan and dropping each egg into it individually; and others for removing eggs and trimming them to the desired oval shape before serving.
The use of salt is debatable, although some chefs suggest that it speeds up the cooking process. Vinegar and acids, like lemon juice and wine, denature the proteins in egg whites and should be added to the poaching water. Breaking the egg into and as close to the poaching water as possible is the direct approach, but some cooks prefer the perforated cup method. Without exception, however, recipes for poached eggs advocate the use of the freshest eggs possible because the yolk membrane will still be strong, and the egg white will cling firmly to the yolk in a mass and not trail off in feathers. The older the egg, the looser the white becomes.Timing in poaching depends on the size and grade (Grade AA is preferable) of the egg, and the temperature of the poaching liquid. Some cooks suggest immersing in lightly boiling water and then, when the whites begin to set, reducing the water temperature to 175°F (79°C) or covering the pan and removing it from the heat. Cooking for too long a period of time, or with too hot a temperature, toughens the proteins. So attention to cooking time and water temperature is necessary, especially if the eggs are to be stored in fresh cold water for use later.
Recipes for poached eggs appear in almost every cookbook either as comforting food pour un malade, a display of the skill and inventiveness of the cook, or a staple of the breakfast/brunch buffet. Many distinctive dishes also are garnished with a poached egg, including the traditional veal cutlet dish Wiener schnitzel; the famous curly endive and lardon salad of Lyon, France; the American breakfast steak; and corned beef hash. In 1861, the Englishwoman Isabella Beeton suggested serving poached eggs on toasted bread or on slices of ham or bacon in her Book of Household Management. A hundred years later, avoiding what she called "that sodden toast," in French Country Cooking (1959), Elizabeth David recommended serving a poached egg on a purée of split peas, corn, or mushrooms, with fried bread on the side. And she included a traditional recipe for oeufs Benedictine, in which poached eggs are placed on a bed of creamed salt cod in individual flat dishes and napped with Hollandaise sauce. In Simple French Food (1975), an avid American practitioner of French cooking, Richard Olney, recommends preparing poached eggs and placing them in artichoke bottoms, topped with Mornay (cheese) sauce and surrounded by a julienne of lightly blanched vegetables (p. 101).
In the United States, serving poached eggs on a piece of toast covered with a slice of ham and napped with Hollandaise sauce translated into an American idiom when it was named after a Wall Street stockbroker (the term appeared in print for the first time in 1928). Lemuel Benedict reputedly used poached eggs, toast, and bacon sauced in Hollandaise as a cure for the extravagances of the "night before." In time Oscar Tschirky, maître d'hôtel of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, refined the dish by substituting toasted English muffins and ham for the toast and bacon, and by adding shaved truffles. Eggs Benedict was also served at Delmonico's restaurant in New York. The dish has not gone out of favor, but has been enhanced by many variations on the basic theme of a poached egg, toast, ham, and sauce blanche.
From the breakfast and brunch table to the buffet, chefs have devised multiple variations of oeufs-en-gelée, or cold poached eggs in jelly. Time-consuming but easy to make, jellied consommé or aspic is systematically added to a mold holding a poached egg and various garnishes until the mold is filled. After the final setting of the jelly, it is unmolded, and served.
Poaching is an ideal way to cook a large fish because no fat is used. The skin can be easily removed, and the delicate flavor and texture of the fish is preserved. The cooking process begins in cold liquid, usually a court bouillon (vegetable broth and wine) and is maintained at 176°F (80°C). If a fish poacher is too large, small whole fish, fillets, and steaks are usually wrapped in cheesecloth for easy removal and poached in any pan large enough to hold sufficient liquid to cover the fish. Some cookbooks also suggest poaching delicate fillets in melted butter in an enclosed casserole, but rather than poaching, the French call this technique poêler.
Because the poaching liquid is both flavorful and acidic, reduction and emulsified sauces can be made to nap the fish, however, the glories of French cuisine have been more traditionally displayed in the repertory of elaborate sauces—Blanche, Bordelaise, Diplomat, Dauphin, and Hollandaise—frequently prescribed for fish.
Delicate shellfish like scallops, oysters, and shrimp can also be poached in wine, aromatics, or in their own liquor. And seafood mousses in various-sized porcelain molds are always poached either on top of the stove or in the oven in a pan half-filled with water at 176°F (80°C).
Poached Meats and Poultry
Almost any tender cut of meat or poultry can be poached, and this technique offers an alternative to meats whose exteriors are browned and caramelized in the cooking process. Sweetbreads, eye of the round, small legs of lamb, duck and chicken breasts, and even beef tenderloins can be poached in stock, with or without vegetables, in a comparatively short time, and either served hot with a variety of sauces or served cold encased in a flavorful jelly or chaud-froid preparation. (Chaud-froid, literally "hot-cold," is a seasoned white or brown sauce to which gelatin is added; it is then spooned over fish or meat and glazed with aspic.) Boeuf à la ficelle is a classic variation on the traditional pot-au-feu, in which the beef tenderloin is tied with a string for easy removal from the poaching pan and served with vegetables and a reduction of the cooking stock. Formulas for finishing poached chicken breasts are as varied as the sauce repertoire for fish fillets, and again feature main course entrees as well as cold preparations.
A galantine is a dish made from the ground meat or forcemeat of poultry or meat that is stuffed into the skin of the chicken or duck of which it is made. Frequently the forcemeat is garnished with small cubes of ham, tongue, truffles, or pistachios. It is usually shaped into a cylindrical shape, wrapped in cheesecloth, tied with string, and poached in 176°F (80°C) liquid until an internal temperature of 160°F (77°C) is reached. When cool, the galantine is usually coated with aspic or a chaudfroid preparation.
Timbales, Terrines, and Quenelles
A large timbale (Arabic thabal, drum) is basically a preparation of forcemeat, meat, fish, or fruit baked with eggs and seasonings in a crust in a round mold with high sides. Small timbales are single servings of custards with forcemeat, shellfish, fish, puréed vegetables and fruits made in glass or porcelain round molds instead of a crust and poached in a water bath of 176°F (80°C) in a warm oven. Nouvelle cuisine, especially, espoused a variety of flavorful puréed vegetable timbales which captured the essence of the flavor of the main ingredient.
Whether a terrine is made with well-seasoned goose, duck, rabbit, venison, pork, or liver combined with forcemeat or delicate shellfish, fish, and vegetable mousse, the rectangular mold in which it is baked in the oven should be standing in a water bath whose temperature does not rise above 176°F (80°C). It is the gentle poaching that distinguishes the terrine from the pâté, which is baked in a crust in a hot oven.
Quenelles, on the other hand, are meat or fish forcemeat dumplings that are bound with eggs, either piped or shaped into their distinctive oval shape with two spoons, and poached in lightly salted water. Small shaped quenelles are often used as elements in various garnishes, such as financière and Toulouse. Larger quenelles, usually containing truffles, are used to embellish sizeable whole fish and other entrée presentations.
Although many nutritionists maintain that eating fruits raw provides the most vitamins, many out-of-season fruits or slightly under-ripe fruits can benefit from light cooking or poaching in a sugar syrup variously flavored with a cinnamon stick, cloves, orange, lemon zest, or vanilla. Cooking with the proper proportions of water and sugar firms the fruit, and when the fruit is lightly cooked and removed from the liquid, the fruit syrup can be reduced and thickened. At that point, fruit liquors, brandy, or rum can be added to the fruit sauce to reduce the sweetness and add more flavor. Fruits prepared this way make for simple but elegant desserts; however, poached fruits can also be glazed and served on meringues or cookies, or in custards or fruit tarts and compotes as in the classic Peach Melba and Pears Belle Hélène.
As a cooking technique that is almost ten thousand years old, poaching has always had a certain culinary cachet. Associated more often with feasting than with famine, the process of gently cooking delicate marrows, fish, shellfish, eggs, fruits, and certain kinds of poultry and meats in savory liquids has always lent finesse to various dishes, while, at the same time, exhibiting the skill of the cook.
See also Beeton, Isabella Mary ; Boiling ; Chef, The ; Delmonico Family ; Eggs ; Escoffier, Georges-Auguste ; Fish ; France ; Gelatin ; Health Foods ; Sauces ; Soup ; Taillevent ; Utensils, Cooking .
Child, Julia. The Way to Cook. New York: Knopf, 1989.
Corriher, Shirley O. Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking. New York: William Morrow, 1997.
Culinary Institute of America. The New Professional Chef. Edited by Linda Glick Conway. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.
David, Elizabeth. French Country Cooking. New York: Knopf, 1980.
Ehlert, Friedrich W., et al. Pates and Terrines. New York: Hearst Books, 1984.
Montagné, Prosper. Larousse gastronomique: The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine, and Cookery. Edited by Charlotte Turgeon and Nina Froud. New York: Crown, 1961. First English edition.
Montagné, Prosper. Larousse gastronomique: The New American Edition of the World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. Edited by Jennifer Harvey Lang. New York: Crown, 1988. Second English edition.
Montagné, Prosper. Larousse gastronomique : The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. Edited by Jennifer Harvey Lang. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2001. Third English edition.
Olney, Richard. Simple French Food. New York: Atheneum, 1975.
Ranhofer, Charles. The Epicurean. Reprint of 1893 Edition. New York: Dover, 1971.
Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham. Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen from 1300 to 1789. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.
"Poaching." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching
"Poaching." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching
J. A. Cannon
"poaching." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching
"poaching." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching
The illegal shooting, trapping, or taking of game or fish from private or public property.
The poaching of game and fish was made a crime in England in the seventeenth century, as aristocratic landowners sought to preserve their shooting and property rights. Poor peasants did most of the poaching to supplement their diets with meat and fish.
In the United States, poaching was not considered a serious problem meriting legal measures before the twentieth century, because vast expanses of undeveloped land contained abundant sources of fish and game. The increased cultivation of land and the growth of towns and cities reduced wildlife habitats in the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, the U.S. conservation movement arose with an emphasis on preserving wildlife and managing the fish and game populations. Wildlife preserves and state and national parks were created as havens for wild animals, many of which were threatened with extinction.
Because of these changing circumstances, restrictions were placed on hunting and fishing. State game and fish laws now require persons to purchase licenses to hunt and fish. The terms of these licenses limit the kind and number of animals or fish that may be taken and restrict hunting and fishing to designated times of the year, popularly referred to as hunting and fishing seasons.
Therefore, persons who fail to purchase a license, as well as those who violate the terms of their licenses, commit acts of poaching. Most poaching in the United States is done for sport or commercial profit. Rare and endangered species, which are protected by state and federal law, are often the targets of poachers.
Poaching laws are enforced by game wardens, who patrol state and national parks and respond to violations on private property. Poachers are subject to criminal laws, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Penalties may include steep fines, jail sentences, the forfeiture of any poached game or fish, the loss of hunting and fishing license privileges for several years, and the forfeiture of hunting or fishing equipment, boats, and vehicles used in the poaching.
"Poaching." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching
"Poaching." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching
poaching: see cooking.
"poaching." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching
"poaching." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/poaching