The Cooking Liquids

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Because fish don’t require prolonged cooking, there’s little time for fish and cooking liquid to exchange flavors and mellow together. Cooking liquids for fish are therefore either fairly neutral and discarded—salted water, or a mixture of water and milk—or are prepared ahead of time to develop their flavor. In the French tradition, there are two classic liquids for poaching fish: a tart, light infusion of vegetables and herbs, and a richer stock made from fish and vegetables.

Court bouillon, or “briefly boiled liquid,” is a mixture of water, salt, wine or vinegar, and vegetable aromatics, cooked together for 30–60 minutes into a medium that will lightly flavor the fish. The vegetables soften and release flavor more rapidly if the acid ingredient is added toward the end; black or white pepper is also added in the last 10 minutes to avoid overextraction of its bitter components. A whole fish poached in court bouillon will contribute both flavor and gelatin to the liquid, which can then be boiled down to a succulent sauce, or else kept as a fish stock and used later.