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A New Way to Cook Fish

Poached Cod with Green Olives and Potato Purée

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By Laurent Gras
from Fine Cooking #123, pp. 54-59

Chefs love cooking sous vide. French for “under vacuum,” sous vide is a method of gently poaching food in vacuum-sealed plastic bags at very low temperatures, usually for long periods of time. It yields wonderfully tender, flavorful food, but I’ll be honest–when it comes to fresh fish, sous vide isn’t my favorite way to cook.

Since cooking anything sous vide takes a long time, in a restaurant setting you need to make the food ahead, cool it down, and then reheat it to serve to your customers. But I believe in cooking fish to order to preserve its fresh flavor and best texture, so this technique doesn’t work for me.

Instead, I’ve developed a sous-vide-like method for fish that takes just minutes and produces super silky, luxurious results. I start by seasoning fish fillets with delicious ingredients (like brown butter and lemon or olive oil and herbs) inside zip-top plastic storage bags. Then I slide the bags into a pot filled with 140°F water. The hot water gently cooks the fish and in 10 to 15 minutes, it comes out tender, ultramoist, and infused with the seasonings.

Better still, my method calls for no special equipment (true sous vide cooking requires a vacuum sealer, special bags, and an immersion circulator), so it’s perfect for home cooks. I hope you enjoy the restaurant-worthy results.

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Three Steps to Super Silky Fish

Season Put fish fillets into zip-top plastic bags and add flavorful ingredients (here, a sundried tomato and lemongrass broth).

Poach Slip the bags into a pan of hot water (140°F) to gently cook the fish; 10 to 15 minutes is all it takes.

Serve Drain off any liquid, then cut each bag open down the center to remove the fish.

Season Poach Serve
Season   Poach   Serve
Safety’s in the Bag
In recent years, concern has grown over cooking food in contact with plastic, the worry being that chemicals could leach into the food. When we began this story, we had the same concern, so we did a little digging. Turns out, most plastic storage bags produced today don’t contain BPA, the chemical that’s of most concern.

Ziploc brand storage bags are made to withstand boiling, which occurs at a much higher temperature than the 140°F required for this technique. Ziploc’s manufacturer assured us that this technique is safe with its freezer and storage bags (which when cleaned and dried can then be recycled with other plastic bags). Just don’t use its sandwich bags, which are too thin. We don’t recommend any other brand of storage bags for these recipes. –the editors

Photos by Scott Phillps


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  • Loriltx | 09/17/2019

    You do not need a vacuum sealer or special bags for sous vide cooking. Just plain ole ziplock bags work great. No vacuum sealing necessary.

  • User avater
    JDMricist | 12/03/2017

    Is it ok to poach (sous vide) the fish in the prepackaged plastic bags the fillets come in? Someone please reply!

  • MamaJay | 04/09/2016

    I'm planning salmon for supper tonight. We eat a lot of fish and poultry. I always have trouble cooking fish...afraid I don't cook enough and then I overcook! (was raised with "overcooking" everything since daddy like his meats "well-done")! Early years on a self sustaining farm (as far as meats), so we rarely had fish. LOL

  • dancingdog | 05/17/2013

    It is incorrect to say that “cooking anything sous vide takes a long time”. It takes 10-15 minutes to heat fish to 140 degrees by this method or using sous vide equipment. Cooking sous vide you do not have to “make the food ahead, cool it down and then reheat it…”. You can do that with sous vide if you are cooking ahead of time for some reason but sous vide gives you a lot of leeway in the cooking time so you can heat the food to the ‘done’ temperature and hold it for much longer than you can with regular cooking. I have been looking forward to Fine Cooking writing about sous vide and I’m sorry that this article is so misleading. The cod with olives is delicious.

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