How to Poach Cod

April 14th, 2021

A Subtle Method for a Delicate Fish

Wild-caught Alaskan cod shines no matter which cooking method you use to prepare it, making it one of the most adaptable fillets to have in your culinary arsenal. Each approach to cooking cod enhances different qualities of this mild, lean, and flaky fish. 

Poaching cod will bring out its clean flavor and delicate texture. Knowing how to poach cod with gentle, even heat is also one of the surest ways to cook a tender, moist fillet of fish every time. It’s a cooking method that’s especially accessible to beginners and pros alike. 

Assemble Your Poaching Liquid

Find a shallow pan (or pot) that just accommodates your cod fillet. Using a pan that is too large won’t hurt the dish, but you’ll need to use more poaching liquid than necessary; the right sized pan keeps things economical. If you’re poaching more than one fillet, the pan should be big enough to fit both while giving each fillet some space so that the poaching liquid can circulate freely.

To this pan, add water, broth, crushed tomatoes or something creamy like coconut milk to create the base of your poaching medium. Add plenty of acid to this: Vinegars, alcohol, and citrus juices will help to draw out the flavors of any other ingredients you throw into the pot. Try white wine, freshly-squeezed lemons, or rice wine vinegar, using enough to season the poaching liquid so that you can clearly taste its acidity. You can also poach with milk, but you’ll want to hold off on the acids as they’ll cause the milk to curdle. 

Add Bold Aromatics

Next, define your poaching liquid with herbs, spices, and other aromatics. A few sprigs of parsley, black peppercorns, bay leaves, and maybe a chunk of leek and celery will build a French flavor profile. A piece of kombu, shiitakes, and scallions will have your cod channeling East Asian flavors. Make sure you’re adding something like sea salt, fish sauce, or soy sauce to the mix, too.

Don’t worry about measuring anything. Just eyeball it so that your pan holds enough liquid to nearly cover the cod once all of your ingredients are in the pot. You don’t have to be exact here, since you can easily adjust the amount of poaching liquid as you go.

The Perfect Poach

Bring the poaching liquid to a boil, then lower to the barest simmer and allow the flavors to meld for about 20 minutes. 

Place cod in the pan, adding a splash more liquid if necessary so that the fillet is almost completely submerged. Keep the heat low and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 135F with an instant-read thermometer. When done, the poached fillet should be opaque in the center and flake easily with a fork.

Poached Cod Recipe Ideas

Bon Appetit’s recipe for poached cod uses a leek-infused milk as it’s poaching liquid, creating a mild and elegant meal that highlights the delicate flavors of the fish.

You can also use a combination of liquids to get a balance of flavor and acidity. Martha Stewart’s recipe uses a mix of cherry tomatoes (which are sweet, but are also naturally acidic) and chicken broth to pump up the flavor in a meal of cod and potatoes. Tomatoes also work nicely when combined with white wine, which you can try out with Epicurious’s recipe for cod poached in a tomato saffron broth. 

For a richer dish, check out Cooking Light’s recipe for cod poached in a Thai-inspired coconut milk curry.