Poaching is a low-heat, moist cooking method that lets delicately textured seafood, poultry, vegetables and fruits hold their shape while soaking up the flavors of the stock, wine, coconut milk or water – that’s been fortified with aromatics, herbs and spices – in which they bathe. Once the raw food is lowered, ever so gently, into the pot of poaching liquid, the cook controls the heat so that the liquid holds steady between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit until the food is cooked through.

There are two types of poaching: shallow and deep. The former calls for just a little poaching liquid that will easily reduce to a pan sauce to serve with the cooked food. But when, say, a whole fish, a small chicken, or a dozen slender Bosc pears get submerged in a deep-poaching situation, there is a whole lot of liquid in the pot. Sure, a cup or two may be concentrated to serve as sauce, but what’s a cook to do with the rest of this liquid gold?

Begin by straining it, first through a fine-meshed sieve, and a second time through the fine-meshed sieved lined with cheesecloth. Straining it twice is, arguably, a bit fiddly, but it’ll remove all the proteins and particles that could make the liquid undesirably cloudy.

Once strained, both savory and sweet liquids can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for three days or frozen for up to four months. But for food safety reasons, all should be brought back to a boil before you use them again.

Fish, chicken and vegetable poaching liquids can be used to poach again or to make a sauce or the liquid base of a soup. For example, I saved the poaching liquid from the last time I made White Cut Chicken, Cantonese comfort food in which a whole chicken is poached in water that’s been flavored with scallions, garlic, ginger, mirin and Sichuan peppercorns, I froze some of the spicy, only mildly chicken liquid in quart containers and some in ice cube portions. One quart was thawed, brought to a boil and fortified with coconut milk to make a Thai-inspired noodle soup while a second quart gave my first sweet taste of winter squash soup a bit of a kick. The ice cubes were melted down two or three at a time, and mixed with cornstarch for slurries that made stir-fry sauces glaze over the vegetables in the wok instead of washing over them.

Sweet poaching liquids – which appear most often in my kitchen during pear season – are more versatile as they aren’t typically tied in taste to the food that was cooked in them. For example, the beautiful pink-yellow-orange poaching liquid in British/Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s Poached Pears in Wine, Cardamom and Saffron can range far beyond pears. I’ve used it as a glaze for pork roast. I’ve warmed it and mixed it with gelatin and poured that over a vanilla sheet cake before chilling it and frosting it with whipped cream for a cold confection that when sliced presents a flavorful, colorful surprise. I’ve reduced it to a thick syrup and mixed it with equal amounts of powdered sugar to make a glaze for pound cake. I’ve churned it in an ice cream maker for a sorbet which we’ve eaten both as a simple dessert and a fancy dinner party palate cleanser between courses. And I’ve poured into Champagne flutes when the bubbly I could afford was cheaper than I like to drink straight.

In my mind – and on my plate, in my bowl and in my glass – poaching liquid has proven to be one of those sustainable gifts that just keeps on giving.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]


Poached pears.


Saffron and cardamom are two of the most expensive spices around. In this recipe, their flavor pops as much as the colors do. But don’t waste a drop of this poaching liquid developed by chef Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook “Jerusalem.” I’ve slightly adapted it here to spare the lemon peels and increase the yield. Serve come of the syrup with the pears and a dollop of yogurt, put try it also as a sauce for pound cake and a flavoring for soda water or Champagne.
Makes 12 pears and 6 cups of poaching liquid

4 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups sugar
15 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
3 large pieces of lemon peel, with as little pith attached as possible
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 firm pears

Combine the wine with 2 cups of warm water in a large pot. Place over medium heat and add sugar, cardamom, lemon peel and juice, saffron and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat.
Peel pears. Leaving the stems intact, use a melon baller to scoop out the core of each pear from the bottom of the fruit. Gently place the pears in the pot with the poaching liquid. Add water if they are not completely submerged. Place the pot over medium heat and bring its contents to a very slight simmer. Reduce the heat so that only a bubble or two rises to the surface per minute. Poach the pears until they are tender, about 45 minutes. Turn the heat off and cool the pears in the liquid.
Remove the pears when they are cool, and refrigerate. Strain the poaching liquid. Place 3 cups of the poaching liquid in a saucepan and reduce it by half over medium heat. Cool, then serve syrup with poached pears.
Pour remaining poaching liquid into a container and refrigerate for three days or freeze for three months.

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