Take A Tip From Julia Child And Poach Fish In Wine For More Flavor

Julia Child was an epicure through and through. The world-renowned cook had a special place in her heart for Costco hot dogs and Goldfish crackers, but in fashion befitting the "French Chef," she also knew how to make knockout traditional French classics. Today, we're exploring one such recipe from Child's sprawling oeuvre: Her Filets de Poisson Pochés au Vin Blanc (fish filets poached in white wine) from her seminal "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1." 

To pack bold wine flavor into her fish, the chef seasoned skinned ⅜"-thick sole filets in salt and pepper, then poached them with butter, minced shallots, and dry white wine in a wide saucepan for 8 to 10 minutes until fork-tender. Typically, about 160 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect temperature for wine-poaching fish, just below the simmer, keeping that delicate filet from losing moisture or breaking apart while still killing bacteria. As Child explained, fish's "close-grained yet delicate flesh make it ideal for poaching."

After wine-poaching, Child sieved out the winey-briney fish stock poaching liquid and reduced it into a luxurious creamy sauce with a butter-flour roux to thicken. Although, any dressing or sauce (or lack thereof) would work for your fish — the wine poaching packs enough impressive, dimensional flavor on its own. You could take a cue from Child's notes and garnish with some freshly grated Swiss cheese and another pat of butter to introduce a welcome fat component to this lean dish.

Finding the right wine and other pairings

To make successful poached fish, a killer poaching liquid should be two things: flavorful and slightly acidic. Wine can elevate poached fish as it cooks gently in a dimensional, aromatic cooking liquid, imparting subtle delicacy. As such, select a wine with tasting notes that will complement the fish as it complexifies during its tenure in the pan — namely, a dry white.

Any budget-friendly Chardonnay or Alsatian Riesling will work well for poaching white fish. If you're willing to spend a little more, Lail Vineyards Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc from California's Napa Valley would be ideal for its slight acidity, dryness, and tasting notes of lemon, thyme, ginger, and chives. If your local fishmonger doesn't have sole, then cod, halibut, flounder, or pike are similar white fish that can get the job done and handle a poach. It doesn't just have to be white fish, either. You can wine-poach tuna or salmon in dry white wine just the same.

In her recipe, Child served her wine-poached sole with a side of julienned vegetables (leeks, carrots, and celery) and mushrooms. But you could veer off from Child's guidance and impart a little herbaceous flavor with fresh rosemary or thyme. This would also lend a pop of color to your finished plated fish. Just be sure to select herbs that won't clash with the flavor profile of your chosen wine (i.e. mint and red wine are not the move, but Chardonnay and oregano would pair beautifully).