Over the last few months, I have been making my way through Molly Baz's cookbook, Cook this Book. One recipe in particular caught my eye immediately: Poached fish with creamed leek and hazelnuts. The technique involves infusing heavy cream with fragrant, savory ingredients, then poaching fish in the flavored liquid.
As delicious as the dish sounded, though, I was looking for a dish that was slightly more lactose-intolerant-friendly and then I thought back to one of my favorite Thai soups, tom kha gai.
Tom kha gai is a coconut-milk-based chicken soup scented with galangal (or ginger), lemongrass, chilies, fish sauce, makrut lime leaves, lime juice, and cilantro. The combination of sweet, salty, and sour flavors balanced in a creamy broth felt ideal for pairing with a mild, firm fish. So, this dish is inspired by elements from both of those recipes.
Tom Kha Gai Inspired Poached Fish
This coconut milk poached fish recipe takes inspiration from the flavors of tom kha gai with a few modifications.
I simmer the coconut milk with the essential ingredients of ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, and lime juice, but include garlic and lime zest (in place of makrut lime leaves, which can be difficult to source). Instead of mushrooms, I add bok choy, a popular addition to coconut-based fish recipes that provide vibrant green color and a nice crunch.
Finally, I top the poached fish with lime-pickled chilies for a bit of heat, crispy fried ginger, and fresh cilantro. The dish comes together in just about 30 minutes, perfect for a weeknight meal.
Aromatic Flavors Bring This Dish Together
Let's delve into some of the key ingredients for flavoring this dish.
- Coconut milk serves as the base of the poaching liquid and adds a lightly sweet and nutty flavor to the recipe. My favorite brand is Aroy-D, available online or at most large grocery stores. Its creamy consistency provides a nice contrast to the punchiness of the other ingredients.
- Typically, tom kha gai uses galangal, but ginger is more readily found in the US. Additionally, gingers softer texture is easier to mince for the crispy fried ginger. I like incorporating ginger into this recipe in two ways: first, as an ingredient for the poaching liquid and second, as a crispy topping.
- Lemongrass adds a fragrant, floral flavor to the poaching liquid. Many large grocery stores, including Whole Foods, carry it in the international produce section or herb aisle. If you cannot source it, feel free to omit.
- I use lime zest to add a citrusy component in place of makrut lime leaves, which can be tricky to find. If you do find lime leaves, feel free to substitute the lime zest for two lime leaves. Thinly slice the lime leaves and simmer in the coconut milk as you would the lime zest.
- Fish sauce, a common ingredient in East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines, contributes a rich, savory taste to balance out the creaminess of coconut milk. You only need a little bit to transform a dish.
How to Purchase and Prep Cod
I like using cod for this dish because of its accessibility and firm texture (it won't fall apart in the liquid!) A single serving of fish is typically 6 ounces, so I recommend purchasing four (6 ounce) filets for four people. Alternatively, you can buy a large, 1 1/2 pound piece of cod and cut it up into four equal portions.
I typically shop for fish at the seafood section of my local grocery store or a local fish market. Both fresh and frozen fish work for this recipe, though I often use the fresh variety. When shopping for cod, look for a bright, moist appearance and avoid any pieces with fishy odors. For frozen cod, make sure to thaw overnight in the fridge before cooking.
Please note that thicker pieces of cod will take longer to cook through, so you may need to adjust the cooking time based on the size of the fish.
How to Poach Fish
Poaching is a method of cooking whereby an ingredient is submerged in a liquid at a low temperature. Poaching happens at a lower temperature than, say, boiling or simmering, which helps preserve meat or fish's soft, moist texture.
To poach fish successfully for this recipe, you will want to employ the following techniques:
- Make sure the poaching liquid is flavorful. Bland poaching liquid leads to bland fish.
- Ensure you have enough poaching liquid. If the liquid doesn't fully submerge the fish, the top portion could dry out. To solve this problem, you can add more coconut milk or water to the pan.
- Keep the pan at low heat so that the liquid is just barely simmering, with very small bubbles breaking the surface of the liquid, to prevent the fish from overcooking or falling apart.
Tips and Tricks for Making Coconut Poached Fish
To make the most delicious coconut poached fish, follow our simple tips and tricks.
- Keep tasting and seasoning the poaching liquid as you go through each step of the recipe. Ask yourself whether the dish has enough saltiness (from the fish sauce), acidity (from the lime juice), sweetness (from the brown sugar), and umami flavor (from the ginger and garlic).
- Go easy on the pickled chilies to start. Start by adding just one pickled chili to each serving bowl and adjust as needed. The spiciness will intensify in the coconut milk over time.
- Poach the bok choy at a gentle heat to maintain a crunchy texture.
- Use full-fat coconut milk to achieve a creamy consistency.
Swaps and Substitutions
This recipe is very flexible and takes easily to swaps and subs. Take a look at these quick and easy substitutions you can try:
- Coconut milk adds nuttiness and creaminess to the recipe, but if you don't have it on hand, you can sub in the same amount of heavy cream.
- Can't find cod? Try another white, firm fish such as halibut or sea bass.
Variations on Coconut Poached Fish
Instead of fish, you could use the same poaching liquid to poach pieces of chicken breast, mussels, clams, or shrimp. Keep in mind that cooking times will vary depending on the type of meat.
How to serve Coconut Poached Fish
More Cod Recipes for Weeknight Dinner
Coconut Poached Cod with Ginger and Lime
The reduced coconut poaching liquid will rewarm the cooked fish and bok choy when it is poured over top during assembly.
4 (6-ounce) cod fillets
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 limes, zested and juiced (3 tablespoons juice, divided)
1 red Fresno chili, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons ginger, minced (from about a 2-inch piece)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemongrass, thinly sliced (from about a 1 trimmed stalk)
2 (13.5 ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 ounces baby bok choy, ends trimmed and stalks separated
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped
Season the fish:
On a clean cutting board, thoroughly pat both sides of fish dry. Sprinkle with salt on both sides.
Pickle the chilies:
In a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons lime juice and chilies. Set aside until you’re ready to serve.
Make the fried ginger topping:
Set a paper towel lined plate aside for the fried ginger.
In a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet set over medium-high heat, add the oil. Sauté the ginger in oil for 30 seconds to 1 minute until it appears golden brown. Err on the side of caution here, as there will be some residual carryover cooking, and the ginger will continue to darken in color (if the ginger burns, you will need to start over).
Immediately remove pan from the heat and pour the ginger and oil mixture into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Evenly scatter the strained ginger from the sieve to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Reserve the ginger oil.
Sauté the aromatics:
Wipe the pan clean, using a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, removing any residual browned bits of crisped ginger. Add strained ginger oil back into the pan and set to medium-low heat. Cook the garlic and lemongrass, until aromatic and lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Simmer the poaching liquid:
Stir in coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, the lime zest, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of lime juice to the pan.
Bring to a boil at medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer at a gentle boil for 10 minutes, maintaining medium-sized bubbles at the surface of the liquid. Season the liquid with additional fish sauce, brown sugar, or lime juice as needed.
Poach the bok choy:
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the bok choy. Cook, until the greens are wilted, and stems are slightly softened but still crunchy, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bok choy and divide among four serving bowls.
Poach the fish:
Carefully add the fish into the pan and cook, covered, on low heat, until the fish is cooked through, 6 to 9 minutes. When cooked, the fish will transform from translucent to opaque and gently flake when prodded with a fork. You can also use a thermometer to check the internal temperature, which should be between 140°F and 145°F.
Note that thinner pieces will cook faster than thicker ones. The liquid should be just barely simmering, with small bubbles so make sure to adjust the heat as needed. Gently remove the fish from the pan with a slotted spoon or fish spatula and divide among the serving bowls.
Reduce the sauce:
Simmer the coconut milk for an additional 3 to 5 minutes on medium heat until it thickens and reduces slightly. Liquid should not appear watery at all—it should coat the back of a spoon like a thick curry. Season with more fish sauce, brown sugar, or lime juice as needed.
Assemble the dish and serve:
Divide the hot poaching liquid into each bowl equally. Top with the fried ginger, pickled chilies, lime wedges, and chopped cilantro. Serve.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 53g||68%|
|Saturated Fat 37g||186%|
|Total Carbohydrate 23g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||13%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 88mg||441%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|