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Poached Fish

Poached Fish
Pat Tanumihardja for NPR /

This traditional French method of poaching fish uses court bouillon, literally "short broth." Instead of the standard white mirepoix (onions and celery), I opted for leeks. Although recipes recommend using a fish kettle or poacher for best results, I used a 6-quart cocotte (oblong Dutch oven) without incident. Trout and salmon are the most classic fish, but red snapper, striped bass or even the en vogue tilapia would work well.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns

1 leek, chopped

Juice (2 tablespoons) and finely grated rind of 1 small lemon

2 cups water

1 cup white wine

Coarse salt to taste

1 (2- to 3-pound) whole tilapia, scaled, gutted and fins and gills removed.

Water as needed to completely submerge fish

Herbed mayonnaise (recipe follows)

Tie up the thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns in a small square of cheesecloth for easy retrieval.

Place all the ingredients (except the water and the fish) in a fish poacher or a pot big enough to hold the fish. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Allow the liquid to cool to room temperature or at least 85 degrees. You don't want the hot liquid to cook and toughen the exterior flesh before the interior is done.

Remove the solids, reserving the leeks.

Place the fish in the pot and add enough water to completely submerge the fish. Over high heat, bring the liquid to a gentle simmer (it will take about 7 minutes), but don't let it boil. Cover the pot and cook the fish for another 20 minutes (or 7 to 10 minutes per inch at the thickest part). Start testing for doneness after 15 minutes. Once the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork, the fish is done.

Remove the fish gently with two spatulas and place on a serving plate. If desired, carefully peel off the skin with a small knife and your fingers. Scrape off any grey flesh and use tweezers to pull out any exposed bones.

Arrange cooked leeks around the fish and serve at room temperature with herbed mayonnaise.

Herbed Mayonnaise

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs such as tarragon, dill or parsley

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and serve.

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