Poached Fish

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Eight to ten

    servings, depending on the size of the fish.

Appears in

Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer

Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer

By Craig Claiborne

Published 1969

  • About

To poach a whole fish (which means simmering gently in liquid until done) it is best to use a liquid—almost always water or water and wine—seasoned with vegetables and herbs. This liquid is called a court bouillon. After the court bouillon is prepared, it is best to let it cool before adding the fish. The fish is then added, brought to a boil, and simmered for 10 to 15 minutes for a whole, cleaned 3- to 5-pound fish. After the fish is cooked, it may be left in the liquid until it cools to lukewarm.

Leftover fish cooked in this manner may be mixed with mayonnaise for a salad.


  • 1 whole, cleaned 3- to 5- pound fish, such as striped bass, sea bass, bluefish, large trout, or salmon
  • Water
  • 1 rib celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh tarragon, if available
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, if available
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, if available, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt to taste
  • 15 peppercorns


  1. If available, use a long, oval fish boiler. If not, a roasting pan will do although it must be long enough to accommodate the fish. Many people prefer to cook and serve a whole fish with the head on. This is a question of choice, however.

  2. Add enough water to the pan to cover the fish when it is added. Trim off and discard most of the leaves from the celery. Chop the celery rib and add it to the water.

  3. Trim off and discard the end of each carrot. Scrape and slice the carrots. Add the slices to the water.

  4. Peel the onion and cut it into slices. Add the onion slices, parsley, bay leaf, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, salt, and peppercorns. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Let stand until cool. If there is no rack to place the fish on, the fish may be wrapped in a cheesecloth “sling” to facilitate removing the fish from the court bouillon once the fish is cooked. To make such a sling, simply take a length of cheesecloth, wrap the fish in it and leave the ends long enough for lifting.

  5. When the fish is ready to cook, place it in the cool liquid and bring to a boil. Let the fish cook gently, that is to say simmer, in the court bouillon. Cook the fish for 10 to 15 minutes and turn off the heat of the stove. Let stand until lukewarm. Serve the lukewarm fish with melted butter, lemon wedges, and hollandaise or other fish sauce. When the fish is cold, it may be served with mayonnaise.