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Poaching is such a wonderful cooking technique. Not only can you create delicious, delicate dishes but it offers a wide variety of ways of imparting flavors to your recipes. The key to poaching food is that it is a very gentle process.
Julia Child, in her book From Julia Child's Kitchen, defined the seven stages of heating water. Other authors have given other definitions but most are similar to these.
1. Tepid: 85 to 105 degrees.
2. Warm: 115 to 120 degrees.
3. Hot: 130 to 135 degrees.
4. Poach: 180 to 190 degrees. This is the point at which the water starts to move. Julia Child called this stage a "shiver" James Beard referred to it as "feeble ebullition."
5. Simmer: 190 to 200 degrees. Bubbles start to show in the water. This is the point at which most stews are cooked and at which braising is done.
6. Slow boil: 205 degrees. There are slow rising bubbles forming.
7. The real boil, full boil or rolling boil: To heat a liquid to its boiling point (in the case of water this is 212° F) until bubbles break the surface.
It’s that gently simmering liquid just below the boiling point (180 to 190 degrees) that is the key. This is also the temperature at which food is blanched. Almost any food can be poached - fish, chicken, eggs....
Poaching an egg is the best way to learn this technique. The fresher the egg the better and it’s best to start with one that’s chilled. As noted the water has to be at a stage that is not boiling with full bubbles but hot enough to cook the egg quickly. For most foods it’s important to add a little bit of an acid like vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice to the water. The lower pH of the acidulated water helps proteins such as those in eggs or fish to cook properly.
Crack the egg into a teacup and then pour the egg from the cup into the poaching water. (This is so that if you break the yolk the egg won't be wasted.) Let the egg cook slowly watching so that the water never comes to a full boil. Use a slotted spoon to remove the egg from the water.
Don’t hesitate to experiment with flavorings in your poaching water. It need not be overdone -- a few bay leaves, herbs, peppercorns, cloves or allspice is enough. The key is to add just a hint of flavor to the poaching water and thus your food.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
January 14, 2008