Olive Oil Poached Fish or Shellfish

By • April 19, 2010 • 25 Comments



Author Notes: A few years ago, before sous vide infiltrated restaurant kitchens, every other menu featured a "slow-cooked" fish or shellfish. Slow cooking may sound like a daunting technique, but it's really just what it advertises -- fish or shellfish cooked gently and patiently over low heat, usually in a warm bath of olive oil or butter.

Slow poaching is now the technique I use most often on weeknights when I'm busy and want a low maintenance but delicious main course, and for dinner parties, when I want to serve fish but don't want to worry about sauteeing at the last minute.
There's little risk of overcooking it, which is one of the reasons poaching fish or shellfish in olive oil is such a genius method. An oil bath creates a protective cocoon around the seafood so none of the edges dry out, and just enough of the oil clings to it to give the seafood a buttery feel. And because of the low temperature, the seafood isn't done one minute and overcooked the next -- day-dreamers and multi-taskers get a time buffer. Chances are you'll end up with fish or shrimp that tastes pure and clean, and pairing possibilities that are endless (think salsa verde, romesco, grits and risotto).
Amanda Hesser

Makes any kind of fish or shellfish

To poach any kind of fish

  1. Lay the fillets in a shallow, oven-proof casserole dish or skillet, just large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Cover the fish with a 1/8-inch thick layer of olive oil (a good brand, but not your best), season with a flakey sea salt and any other herb or spice you like, then send it into a 275-degree oven, basting it often, until it's cooked through. For a 1-inch thick fish fillet, it takes about 30 minutes.

To poach shrimp, scallops or lobster

  1. I like to cook them on the stovetop. Place them in a single layer in a saucepan and pour in enough oil to just cover them. My default aromatics are thyme and lightly smashed garlic cloves (see photo above). Then set the pan over low heat, letting it warm enough so that tiny bubbles begin emerging on the sides of the pan, but none of the shellfish are bouncing around. Baste often and you'll see the shellfish slowly turn opaque and constrict. When they're cooked properly, they'll be bouncy and light and not at all tough.
Jump to Comments (25)

Comments (25) Questions (2)

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9 months ago ingmarie

some great Ideas here, love it .

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9 months ago Lauren

Made this for a dinner party (used shrimp and added chili flakes, rosemary, oregano and thyme) and served w/ bread to eat with the oil. It was a huge hit!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

9 months ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

So glad to hear this, and thanks for the bread tip -- like that!

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over 1 year ago culture_connoisseur

I used half a jar of marinated artichokes along with its oil and spices, fresh prawns, scallops, halibut and salmon. It was fantastic!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Wow, that sounds delicious -- nice variation.

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over 1 year ago ingmarie

I love it ,and will make again, It is not a bit oily,just really good.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Great -- so glad!

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over 1 year ago Tamara Hudes Agarwal

I made this with shrimp today for lunch and it was amazing! The shrimp turned out sweet and light and almost buttery, but not oily or heavy at all. It was so good!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Thanks for the feedback -- it's really helpful to other cooks who are considering trying this!

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over 1 year ago ingmarie

I will make this tonight, scallops (for me)
shrimp (for dear husband) with pasta

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over 1 year ago sbf-ct

I'm planning on shrimp for tonight & this looks like a delicious option... can you give me an idea of what sort of time frame I'm looking at stovetop? I see lots of references to slow cookers below & hours of slow cooking....??? Really??? Looking fowd to trying it out!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

15 minutes!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Depends on the heat level but that's generally the right amount for my stove.

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over 1 year ago sbf-ct

Awesome! Trying it tonight. I'll report back. Thanks!

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over 2 years ago Kimberly Belle

This looks incredible! Do you reuse the olive oil afterward, or do you have to throw it away?

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

You can use it to dress the shellfish or shrimp -- and if you wanted to poach some more fish within 4 days, you could chill the oil in the fridge and re-use it.

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about 2 years ago cheese1227

Why only four days?

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Because the fish juices from the original batch will begin to turn.

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Absolutely delicious!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

almost 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Glad to hear it!

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over 3 years ago michellef

This is one of my favorite recipes! I poached salmon in olive oil and it was delicious!!

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over 3 years ago RisaCooks

BTW, I will try the recipe above and let you know what I think. I have some polenta in the slow cooker right now (from Beth Hensperger's Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Family Favorites book) and I will oil poach the sole to go with it. Will be a really yummy dinner with little effort.

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over 3 years ago RisaCooks

I oil-poached some fish fillets a few months ago in the oven and the fish came out amazing. This is why I wanted to do it again today. I lost the original recipe and found your blog on the net. Yeah!

For amanda: Tuna seems to dry out very easily, if overcooked. Just cook it for less than the recipe says - I would test the fish after 1-1/2 hours and if still too pink, then cook for another 15 or so minutes. Also, my slow cooker cooks faster than most and I always test early in the process. Actually, most restaurants under-cook tuna a great deal, on purpose. Actually you should eat it a bit pink. It will not make you sick. Same with Salmon. Just my 2 cents. Hope it helps.

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over 3 years ago Nora

I have a slow cooker recipe that says to cover tuna in olive oil and cook on low for three hours. I tried it, and the fish was dry. I want to try again, though, using these directions. I seems that done right, it would be delicious.

My dogs got to enjoy the oil...so they want me to try again, too.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Lucky dogs! Could be that it was a little too long for the tuna or that that particular piece of tuna lacked fat. Seems worth trying again with either method -- let me know how it goes.