What is Poaching?
Poaching is a gentle cooking process that uses moist heat from a liquid without fat. This recipe for simple poached salmon uses the shallow poaching technique, which cooks the salmon above the liquid on a bed of herbs and vegetables. Another method, the submerged poaching technique, is excellent for poaching chicken. Both ways use cooking liquid, flavorful herbs and vegetables, and a lid while cooking. The Instant Pot provides a perfect new twist on a classic cooking method.
Advantages of Poached Salmon
- FIlets can be cooked fresh or frozen.
- No fishy smell remains in the home when poaching salmon.
- No oil is needed with poaching – making this recipe a heart-healthy cooking method.
- Preserves the structure of delicate foods like eggs and fish
- Adds subtle tastes or cuisine nuances by using a variety of flavorful herbs, spices, aromatic fruits, and vegetables.
- Retains moisture and tenderness
- Allows for make-ahead cooking, notably protein served at room temperature
- Provides flavor creativity – pair spices and flavors with the side dishes served at the meal. Look for a theme to get flavor inspiration: Mediterranean, Mexican, Asian.
Great Meal Prep Recipe
This delicious, fast, healthy recipe is a meal prep dream. Double the recipe and have a delightful dinner with great leftovers for salads and tacos, or add to a pasta dish later in the week. Since it can be prepared with fresh or frozen salmon, you can buy individually packaged frozen filets. These are usually less expensive than fresh and often on sale.
- Storage: Place leftover salmon in a shallow airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 days.
- Reheating: I do not recommend reheating salmon to eat as a leftover. It stinks up the house and tends to dry out. Poached salmon is delicious cold or at room temperature. Eat it in a sandwich with mayo and some lemon juice. Flake it into pieces and add to salads, tacos, and bagels with cream cheese, or gently stir it into warm pasta.
Ingredient Tips & Substitutions
- Lemon, lime, oranges – use any combination of citrus. Don’t sweat it if you do not have one of these fruits. Fresh is essential, however, because the zest offers an outstanding taste to the dish.
- Onion or shallot – any color onion (red, white, yellow, or even green onion) or shallot will work.
- Boneless Centercut Salmon – Fresh or frozen center-cut (as opposed to the tail pieces) contains the belly and the backside of the fish and is uniformly thick, and boneless. I usually purchase Atlantic Salmon because of its affordability. Look to see if your store carries sustainably farm-raised. Wild-caught salmon is available from the Pacific Ocean including Sockey and Coho. Read more about the top six types of salmon from the Spruce Eats.
- Cilantro and Parsley with their stems make a great bed to raise the fish above the water and add flavor. Basil, fennel, celery, or lemongrass will also work.
- Bay Leaves –You can omit them if you do not have them in your kitchen. The recipe has plenty of seasoning from other ingredients.
- Water is a great cooking liquid for salmon – other liquids options include broth, milk even unsweetened coconut milk. Keep the liquid lower than the fish, however.
- Tajin is a Mexican spice blending chili peppers, lime, and sea salt – it adds color and great flavor. A sprinkle of dill or paprika will work if you do not have it.
Get Creative with Flavor Profiles
Try different variations of ingredients that complement the other dishes you are serving for dinner. There are four areas where you can get creative with infusing flavors into the salmon when poaching:
- Poaching Liquid – water, broth, or coconut milk
- Aromatics – flavorful ingredients added to the liquid
- Marinade – ingredients on the salmon
- Garnish or Sauces – added to the salmon after cooking
Water and or broth is the main ingredient for the poaching liquid. Smaller portions of the following liquids can be included: up to half a cup of wine or coconut milk. And 1 – 2 Tablespoons of some of these ingredients: lemon juice, vinegar, soy sauce, Tabasco sauce, etc.
Garnish or Sauce
A garnish can be as simple as fresh or dried dill or minced parsley with salt, pepper, and lemon wedges. Zest from any citrus provides a bright taste and color. I like Caesar salad with salmon, so I serve extra salad dressing on the table to be dolloped on the fish. Taziki or hollandaise sauce are great options.
Aromatics are flavorful herbs and vegetables that are important in a poaching recipe for two reasons: 1) adding flavor, and 2) they provide a buffer or bed that supports the delicate fish above the poaching liquid so the fish does not get soggy. Considerations include carrots, celery, onion, shallot, sliced ginger, sliced or whole peeled garlic, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, lemon slices, parsley, dill, cilantro, bouquet garni (bundle of fresh herbs tied together), a bit of miso paste.
I use the term marinade very loosly as salmon does not need marinating since it is so tender but does benefit from flavor infusion for a few minutes. While preparing the other ingredient, I usually let the salmon sit on a plate with a sprinkle of citrus juice and salt and pepper or ginger and soy sauce is an option.
Recipe Steps Using Fresh Salmon
Cut salmon to the desired serving pieces and prep ingredients.
Place silicone or wire trivet into the cooker and move the handles up and away.
Arrange herbs, onion, and bay leaves on the trivet and top off with lemon slices.
Pour 1 - 2 cups of water into the cooker. It should just reach the bottom of the lemon slices. Place salmon in the cooker.
Lock the lid in place, select the high-pressure cook function, and cook for 5 minutes. Salmon is fully cooked at 145º.
Remove salmon from the cooker and garnish with chopped herbs, zest, and citrus wedges.
Recipe steps using frozen salmon
No need to thaw frozen fillets when using the Instant Pot. Using frozen fish is convenient and affordable.
Fresh and frozen salmon follow the exact directions to prepare the salmon and poaching ingredients. Only the cooking time differs.
Set to high pressure and 6 minutes. It takes the cooker longer to come to pressure than fresh fillets because it is frozen.
When timer goes off, do a quick release. Check to see that the salmon is uniform color throughout and flakes easily.
Or use a digital thermometer to check for doneness. Salmon is cooked at 145º. Leave to rest in cooker to reach desired temperature.
Remove salmon to a plate and garnish with seasoning, citrus wedges and parsley or cilantro.
Nutritional Benefits of Salmon
Salmon is an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. Take a look at the nutritional panel on the recipe card below! A 6-oz serving (which is generous) contains 72% of your protein, 86% niacin, 225% of B12, and 94% of B6. This recipe works for many diets, including Paleo, Low Fat, Low Carb, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Grain Free, Mediterranean Diet, Gluten Free.