It is still boiling hot in Austin. So, as promised & until this heat wave breaks, I am going to continue to write about ways to still be food inspired when it is appetite killing weather.
Last night I had a small dinner party for some business associates in town from Brazil, LA, S. Africa & England. Hard enough to decide what to make for so many international palettes on a normal evening, but how about when it is still 104 degrees outside at 8pm? (Was that a run-on?) I first thought to go with something spicy since all my recent findings have shown that a good chilli meal will cool off the body and stimulate digestion. Then, I had this image of all these lovely faces around the table dripping sweat onto their plates, mopping their brows disdainfully and ultimately ruining my important business relationships. Uh yeah, did I mention we were dining outside?
The phone rang. Friend from England. Said she had eaten poached fish for dinner as the weather was terribly hot. Terribly hot my a**, I responded. She did see my point but it gave me the perfect solution for my dinner party menu. Off to the market I went and returned with 4 new, scaly, bulgey eyed friends. Rainbow trout.
Poaching, as a cooking method, goes back to 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. 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. 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.
Poaching later became a favorite preparation method for the health conscious as the process involves the use of no fats. Poaching, or “moist heat”, involves submerging the food into a liquid bath of water, wine or stock or a combination thereof. Depending on what you are poaching other flavors are added to give the dish its seasoning. Once your “bath water” has been boiled to meld the flavors, it is put to simmer until cooled. Then the food is added and brought back to boil, reduced again to simmer and cooked usually no more than 10-20 minutes depending on what you are poaching. Fish is an easy 10 minutes.
My friends bathed in pinot grigio,water, black peppercorns, lemon slices, fennel seeds, sea salt and fresh thyme. A sauce of some sort is the best way to enhance the fish, which is quite mild. Last night I had two options; a salsa verde of fresh mint, olive oil, red wine vinegar, capers, sardines and black pepper or a creamy dressing of mayonnaise, dijon & dill. Both were a hit and some even mixed the two together. Rebels.
Because the flavors can be quite light with poached fish, I served it up with some boiled & sliced new potatoes & asparagus wrapped with prosciutto and broiled til crisp. A few good bottles of Sancerre washed it all down with great satisfaction.
It occurred to me , while I was cookin & sippin, that “poaching” also means to illegally take wildlife fish & game. Did this word have the same root? I did a wee bit of wikipedia and found that the verdict is out on this one, but there is an English expression “pig in a poke”, where poke actually is another word for pouch. The French word for “poach” is pouch or packet. The “poaching” process often is referred to as cooking a food in liquid in a pouch. So by that long way around the block thinking, to poach is to poke is to pouch. It’s the heat, I swear.