Oven Poached Salmon Recipe

(or other large, firm-fleshed whole fish)
Suitable for: Salmon, Black Bass, Whitefish.

Serves 8, cold main course;
16-20, appetizer portions

At any time of year, a whole boned and poached salmon makes a festive dish. The method that follows preserves the texture of poaching without the considerable mess or expense of an infrequently-used poacher.

Preparing fish:
Remove backbone and large bones from a 4-5 lb. whole salmon, keeping boned halves attached.  Following the gill-line, remove the head. (If you like to display your salmon complete with head, the presentation will be more attractive if the head is gently steamed separately and reunited with the body on the serving platter.)

To cook the salmon head:
2-part vegetable steamer, or deep saucepan with shallow strainer, and lid
Cheesecloth to wrap head
Olive or other oil to soak cheesecloth
1 quart salted water in steamer bottom, or quantity that leaves 1” between water and fish.
Plastic wrap

  1. Pour oil in a shallow pan or sauces, add cheesecloth till coated. Wrap cloth
    gently but firmly around salmon head.
  2. Bring water to a boil, add cloth-wrapped head and lid. Reduce to med-high     heat, steam salmon head 8-10 minutes to set flesh.
  3. Remove head to cool. As soon as you can touch it, gently peel off cheesecloth
    (skin should be relatively intact; remove eyes if desired). Cover with plastic wrap and chill till you are ready to compose the dish.

Oven-poaching ingredients:
Heat oven to 400 degrees
Heavy-weight aluminum foil
2 tsp. olive or other oil
Large white onion, sliced thin
2 lemons, sliced thin
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
½ cup white vermouth, dry sherry, or white wine (do not use “cooking” sherry or white wine—they are heavily salted)
1 tsp. dried or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon or rosemary
Baking dish large enough to hold foil-wrapped fish

To prepare for poaching:

  1. Open fish halves on 2 thicknesses of foil. Rub fish flesh with oil (not the foil!).
  2. Cover bottom half of fish with even layers of onion, lemon and cucumber; sprinkle with liquid and tarragon or rosemary. Fold fish halves together, wrap fish in “drugstore” fold (grasping sides, bring together and fold twice to make along, tight seam; fold/roll ends upward—your foil package is now    leak-proof).  Place in baking dish, in pre-heated oven.
  3. “Poach” for 30 minutes.  Let cool just long enough to unwrap foil safely (remember it is full of fish-juice/wine steam).
  4. Line cooled baking dish with plastic wrap. On a breadboard or other surface, gently peel foil back from fish. Because the foil was not oiled, fish skin will stick to foil, leaving fish ready to decorate!
  5. Remove any remaining scraps of skin. Gently roll fish into plastic-wrap-lined baking dish, cover with more plastic wrap and chill completely

Decorations for cold poached fish:
Large bunch curly or flat-leaved parsley
2 cucumbers (unpeeled)
2 lemons (sliced thin)
Pimento-stuffed green olives
1-2 additional Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon or rosemary (if available)
Small butter-lettuce or radicchio leaves (enough to surround fish)
1 pt. mayonnaise
1 envelope unflavored gelatin softened in ¼ c cold water, dissolved in ¼ cup boiling water
Additional vegetables—sliced radishes, carrots, scallions (if desired)

To decorate:

  1. Gently roll cold fish onto serving platter.
  2. Remove vegetables from between halves, discard them, and press halves gently together.
  3. Stir gelatin mixture into mayonnaise. Frost fish with mayonnaise, including the head if you have decided to use it.
  4. Run a fork lengthwise down cucumbers to score skin, slice thin and overlap on fish to resemble scales. Slices of lemon may also be used, or tucked with lettuce leaves to surround fish. Pimento-stuffed olives may replace eyes and, with parsley, used to make a ruff to conceal joining of head to body.  Other decorative ideas welcome!

To serve:
A sharp knife and spatula or old-fashioned “fish-slice” help.

Cut through both halves of fish in even slices, using spatula to bring portion to plate, rearranging decorations if needed. If serving as an appetizer, provide crackers or whole-grain cocktail breads to accompany fish.