Olive Oil Poached Fish or Shellfish

By Amanda Hesser
April 19, 2010
27 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

Ingredients

To poach any kind of fish

To poach shrimp, scallops or lobster

Directions

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.

More Great Recipes:
Seafood|Entree

Reviews (27) Questions (2)

27 Comments

ingmarie January 16, 2017
Yes, this is a great dish, made it several times ,just varying the seafood and the spices. Awesome.<br />
 
LittleMissMuffin January 15, 2017
Wow yummy. Made a mix of cod salmon and shrimp (also grilling shrimp and salmon just in case), put garlic and thyme in the oil, and served all with romesco. Just needed a little salt! Served with some grilled eggplant and bread, also drizzled with the olive oil and a little lemon juice
 
ingmarie December 5, 2013
some great Ideas here, love it .
 
Lauren December 4, 2013
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!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. December 4, 2013
So glad to hear this, and thanks for the bread tip -- like that!
 
I used half a jar of marinated artichokes along with its oil and spices, fresh prawns, scallops, halibut and salmon. It was fantastic!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 5, 2013
Wow, that sounds delicious -- nice variation.
 
ingmarie March 25, 2013
I love it ,and will make again, It is not a bit oily,just really good.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. March 25, 2013
Great -- so glad!
 
Tamara H. March 24, 2013
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!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. March 25, 2013
Thanks for the feedback -- it's really helpful to other cooks who are considering trying this!
 
ingmarie March 1, 2013
I will make this tonight, scallops (for me)<br />shrimp (for dear husband) with pasta
 
sbf-ct February 22, 2013
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!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 22, 2013
15 minutes!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 22, 2013
Depends on the heat level but that's generally the right amount for my stove.
 
sbf-ct February 22, 2013
Awesome! Trying it tonight. I'll report back. Thanks!
 
Kimberly B. December 24, 2011
This looks incredible! Do you reuse the olive oil afterward, or do you have to throw it away?
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. December 24, 2011
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.
 
cheese1227 August 28, 2012
Why only four days?
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. August 28, 2012
Because the fish juices from the original batch will begin to turn.
 
em-i-lis September 2, 2011
Absolutely delicious!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. September 2, 2011
Glad to hear it!
 
michellef April 4, 2011
This is one of my favorite recipes! I poached salmon in olive oil and it was delicious!!
 
RisaCooks April 3, 2011
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.
 
RisaCooks April 3, 2011
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!<br /><br />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.
 
Nora January 15, 2011
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. <br /> <br />My dogs got to enjoy the oil...so they want me to try again, too.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. January 15, 2011
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.