Olive Oil Primer: Poaching Seafood in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Some culinary pros we work with suggested we write about poaching foods in extra virgin olive oil. So we picked up the phone and called a chef who loves to use this cooking method with seafood: Dory Ford, the chef-owner of Aqua Terra Culinary, a Pebble Beach, Calif., firm that handles catering, event planning, and menu consulting.

Ford is a seafood guru, having previously worked as the executive chef for Bon Appétit Management Co. at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He said fish is perfect for poaching in a high-quality extra virgin olive oil.

Photo by Topher Mueller, Alma Street Photography

“Fish is mild and it’s fairly neutral in its flavor. So it’s going to take on the flavor characteristics of the olive oil,” says Ford, a leader in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program which promotes the use of sustainable seafood.

Asked to name good candidates for EVOO poaching, Ford suggested lobster, halibut, salmon, California Albacore tuna, and Pacific white sea bass. His rule of thumb: “If you’ve poached it in butter, you can poach it in olive oil.” (You can also check out this recipe for poaching octopus from New York Times food writer Mark Bittman.)

To begin, Ford suggests heating the olive oil to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, “give or take.”

“You really don’t want your oil too hot,” he said. He also suggests letting the fish “warm up” at room temperature for about an hour beforehand. That way, the temperature of the oil won’t drop sharply when you add the fish. The fish should be entirely submerged in the oil.

When is the fish done? “When it’s firm,” Ford said.

The chef then gave us a rundown on a poaching method he particularly likes. Ford adds sprigs of thyme, aromatics such as garlic, and lemon peels to the oil. He puts a covered cooking vessel, such as a pot or a large pan, in a 200 degree oven and allows the oil to heat to that level.

Ford then adds the fish, cooking it until the flesh is firm to the touch. The pot should be covered while it’s in the oven.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch

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