Most cookbooks you look up will tell you to poach salmon in a ‘court-bouillon’. This is a mixture of wine and water with perhaps some sliced carrots, onion, peppercorns and a bouquet garni including a bay-leaf, but I feel very strongly that a beautiful salmon is at its best poached gently in just boiling salted water.
The proportion of salt to water is very important. We use 1 rounded tablespoon of salt to every 40 fl ozs/2 Imperial pints of water. Although the fish or piece of fish should be just covered with water, the aim is to use the minimum amount of water to preserve the maximum flavour, so therefore one should use a saucepan that will fit the fish exactly.
Choose a saucepan which will barely fit the piece of fish: an oval cast-iron saucepan is usually perfect. Half fill with measured salted water, bring to the boil, put in the piece of fish, cover, bring back to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, allow to sit in the water and serve within 15–20 minutes.
If a small piece of fish is cooked in a large saucepan of water, much of the flavour will escape into the water, so for this reason we use the smallest saucepan possible. Needless to say we never poach a salmon cutlet because in that case one has the maximum surface exposed to the water and therefore maximum loss of flavour. A salmon cutlet is best dipped in a little seasoned flour and cooked slowly in a little butter on a pan, or alternatively pan-grilled with a little butter. Serve with a few pats of Maître d–Hôtel Butter and a wedge of lemon.
© 1989 Darina Allen. All rights reserved.