Poaching – when done right – can be just as tasty as other cooking techniques but with healthier results. These three recipes will show you how poaching ingredients can create fantastic dishes full of fresh, clean flavours.
When it comes to cooking techniques, poaching might not have the theatrics of flambéing, the satisfying sizzle of the grill or the comforting aroma that fills the kitchen when roasting something in the oven. Perhaps that’s why it’s a seriously underrated cooking method – especially as some home cooks don’t see the difference between gently poaching something in a flavourful liquid and boiling it in plain water. However, once you know how, poaching is an incredibly healthy way to cook meat, fish and vegetables that keeps foods tender and moist at the same time. It’s also a fantastic way to infuse various aromatic flavours into ingredients.
There’s no denying food fried in oil tastes pretty good – but the impact it can have on your health can be surprising. Just one tablespoon of oil contains around 120 calories and roughly fourteen grams of fat, and when you’re pouring a few glugs of sunflower oil into the pan or drizzling a salad with olive oil, it soon adds up. This can lead to weight gain and a build up of cholesterol, which in turn can lead to heart disease. While a diet that includes oils in moderation is good, it can be tempting to use excessive amounts of oil to fry and dress dishes, resulting in an unhealthy lifestyle.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines who’s out to prove why poaching is such a fantastic cooking method that requires very little or no oil. Fried chicken, for example, can end up dry and stringy, but gently poaching it in stock infused with herbs and spices keeps the meat incredibly moist (and gives it some extra flavour to boot). People always think of poaching as something you do with water, but other liquids can add another dimension of taste. Stocks, for example, infuse their flavour into other ingredients, while milk is particularly good for giving proteins such as fish a luxurious, creamy richness without relying on heavy creams (just be sure not to let the milk boil or burn – a gentle simmer is all that’s needed for poaching). Use various herbs and whole spices in your poaching liquid to add extra flavour – spices such as star anise and cinnamon can give things an Asian twist, while fresh herbs such as tarragon or thyme work incredibly well with chicken.
These three recipes show that poaching should be one of the first techniques you think of when preparing a healthy meal – be it comforting chicken, summery fish or aromatic Asian noodles.
Poached chicken breast can conjure up images of bodybuilders stocking up on bland, lean protein that’s devoid of flavour, but this recipe shows how the method can be used to impart extra flavour into the meat. By using chicken stock infused with fresh herbs instead of water, and poaching the breasts in the oven so the liquid gently simmers rather than boils on the hob, the chicken comes out flavourful, incredibly moist and perfectly cooked. Using the leftover stock to then make a wonderfully rich sauce (made healthier with the addition of cream cheese rather than cream) finishes the dish off perfectly – as do the summer vegetables and mustard mash.
A fantastic dish for summer that proves what a fantastic technique poaching can be when it comes to more delicate ingredients such as fish. Hake is a woefully underused fish in the UK, but chefs and avid cooks know it has a delicate, sweet taste with a firm, meaty texture. Using vegetable stock instead of water adds even more flavour to the fillets – as does the Asian honey and soy vinaigrette – while the quick-pickled chestnut mushrooms lend a piquant note to the finished dish. Serving the hake at room temperature might raise a few eyebrows, but plate it up on a warm summer’s day and you’ll realise what a clever recipe this is.
Asian broths have an incredible ability to provide restorative, clean, comforting flavours whilst being incredibly healthy at the same time. This recipe requires no frying whatsoever as everything is poached in the aromatic vegetable stock, and only contains one teaspoon of oil (although even that is optional). By infusing the stock with ginger, chilli, garlic and lemongrass all of the poached vegetables are given a boost in flavour, and adding them right at the last minute ensures they stay crunchy and fresh-tasting. There is an optional teaspoon of fish sauce in this recipe, but leave it out if you’re after a vegetarian dish.