Poaching is a simple and easy way to develop a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture for fish without overcooking it. This tomato poached fish cooks in a broth of fennel seeds, chili flakes, garlic, shallots, tomato paste, white wine, and orange juice. A dollop of skyr provides a mild creaminess.
Have you ever poached fish before?
It might sound intimidating, but it’s actually quite straightforward! You start by making a flavorful broth for your fish to swim in then submerge the fish in the liquid, cooking it at a gentle heat to maintain a soft and pleasant texture.
What Makes This Recipe Special
Alison Roman came out with a really interesting tomato poached fish recipe a few years back, and I loved the idea of cooking the fish in the flavorful broth. It reminded me of my family’s tomato fish curry, with tomato, lots of spices, ginger, garlic, and coconut. So, I thought, why not try to combine these two techniques?
I wanted to develop an Italian-inspired version with fennel seeds and orange, a combination I absolutely love paired with seafood.
Let’s talk about the resulting dish:
- Poaching the fish, or cooking it at a lower temperature, keeps the structure of the meat intact while developing a soft and tender texture. This method greatly reduces the risk of overcooking the fish.
- Garlic, shallots, fennel, chili flakes, and orange zest provide lots of aromatic notes that pair beautifully with a tomato-paste infused broth and white fish.
- A dollop of skyr and a sprinkling of herbs help contrast the aromatic, acidic notes of the broth.
What is Poaching?
Likely you’ve heard of poaching before, and maybe you’ve even poached meat, like chicken or fish. But you may be wondering, what exactly IS poaching? And what’s the difference between poaching and simmering?
All great questions!
Basically, poaching describes a cooking method where a particular ingredient is submerged in a hot liquid. Poaching occurs at a lower temperature than simmering or boiling, which is especially useful for maintaining the structure of delicate ingredients like fish (aka less flaking, less falling apart).
Poaching typically occurs between 140°F -190°F (60°C -88°C), so there’s a bit of a range. At the lowest range, the liquid is just being to heat up. The water bubbles are extremely tiny; the water is not even steaming yet.
I like to poach my fish for this recipe at the other end of the range, closer to a simmer, around 190°F to 200°F. The liquid has small bubbles all, with a few small bubbles coming up to the surface and popping. There should not be large bubbles at all, but the broth will be nice and steamy. I find this temperature cooks the fish relatively quickly without overcooking it.
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- Firm white fish: You’ll want to cook a relatively firm, thick fish fillet for this recipe. Avoid thin, super flaky fish like tilapia. Cod, halibut, and red snapper are great options. The fish should be 1/3-inch to 1/2-inch thick, so that it’s firm enough to stay together but not so thick that it’ll take forever to cook.
- Orange: I love this recipe in the winter as it really brightens up a dreary day. As such, it’s great during citrus season! Use a nice, juicy orange for this fish, such as Cara Cara oranges.
- Fennel seeds: Fennel seeds add a savory sweetness to the broth. If you don’t have fennel seeds, you can use a bulb of fresh fennel, finely diced. If you have both, I highly recommend adding in some fresh fennel (1/2 a bulb) in addition to the fennel seeds!
- Shallots and garlic: Because there are a lot of acidic ingredients in this dish, the shallot and garlic help bring some savory, umami flavor to balance everything out.
- Tomato paste: I use tomato paste to quickly create a nice, concentrated tomato broth.
- White wine: I tested this recipe with and without white wine, but the white wine version was declared the winner. I find that the addition of white wine helps cut the tomato flavor nicely.
- Skyr, greek yogurt, or creme fraiche: I recommend a generous dollop of skyr/yogurt/creme fraiche to add some creaminess to the dish.
- Parsley: Finely diced parsley brings a bit of brightness to the fish.
How to Make Tomato Poached Fish
Step 1: Prep the aromatics – Slice the garlic and shallot. Zest and juice the orange.
Step 2: Cook the aromatics – Saute the red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, garlic, shallot, and orange zest until they’re nice and golden-brown and a little crispy.
Step 3 – Add the tomato paste – Cook down the tomato paste until it transforms from bright red to brick red, and the oil begins to separate. This can take a few minutes, so don’t rush this! It’s important the tomato paste cooks properly so that it has a robust, caramelized flavor instead of a bracing acidic taste.
Step 4 – Reduce the wine and orange juice – Add the wine and orange juice and deglaze the pan. Scrape up any bits at the bottom with a wooden spoon. Let that reduce until it’s at half its original volume.
Step 5 – Simmer the broth – Add the fish sauce (if using) and water and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer the broth until it’s thickened slightly and, well, tastes good. By tastes good, I mean it should be well-salted, tangy (but not too acidic), and aromatic. If it tastes a bit diluted or too acidic, continue simmering. Make sure to season it nicely with salt and pepper, because you want the fish to cook in a very flavorful broth. Stir in the butter.
Step 6 – Cook the fish – Reduce the heat to a low simmer, then carefully add the fish. Make sure it’s nicely submerged in the liquid. Let it cook, uncovered, until cooked through.
Step 7 – Serve – Use a spatula to gently transfer the fish to serving bowls. Top with broth, a generous dollop of skyr, and lots of herbs.
Make it a Meal
Serve this tomato poached fish with crusty bread to sop up all the delicious liquid! It would also be great with orzo. Either way, I’d also recommend serving this with a salad or roasted potatoes.
Because we’re aiming to keep this fish soft and tender, I don’t recommend making this dish ahead of time! That said, if you were having guests over, you could make the broth ahead of time and cook the fish just before serving.
Poaching fish can vary in time depending on the thickness of the fish, the temperature of the poaching liquid and your stove. In this recipe, I poach the fish at a low simmer (or higher poaching temperature) so it should take about 3 to 6 minutes. But if your fish takes longer, don’t fret!
1) Use a cooking thermometer to check if the fish is cooked by inserting the probe into the center of the thickest part of the flesh. Cod and halibut should be around 130°F to 135°F (other fish may vary, so check the link to see what temperature works for you).
2) Use a fork to gently prod the center of the fish; if it appear opaque and flakes easily, it’s done. If it looks translucent and resists flaking, it needs more time.
Tips & Tricks
For the best tomato poached fish, try these tips:
- Season early and often: Season, season, season! You want to make sure your broth is super flavorful, so make sure you season when sauteeing the aromatics, simmering the broth, and cooking the fish. Salt really helps bring out the flavors of the dish!
- Be gentle with the fish: Use a spatula to carefully lower the fish into the pot and remove it from the pot. Fish is quite delicate, so be patient and gentle when handling.
- Use a narrower pot: To ensure the liquid fully submerges the fish, use a smaller (2 to 2.5 quart), narrower dutch oven, french oven, braiser, or cast-iron pan. If the fish isn’t fully covered, use a spoon to frequently spoon the liquid over the top of the fish to help it cook faster.
Did you try this recipe? I would love to hear your feedback! Be sure to rate the recipe and leave a comment below.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
This recipe has been tested by an in-house recipe tester.
Tomato Poached Fish with Orange and Fennel
- 2.5-quart french oven, braiser, or dutch oven, To ensure the fish is properly submerged in liquid, choose a small dutch oven or braiser, or a narrower (9-inch or 10-inch) cast-iron skillet for this recipe.
- 1/2 orange, preferably cara cara; navel works too
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup dry white wine, such as chardonnay, pinot grigio, or sauvignon blanc
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce, optional
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 pound cod, halibut, or another firm white fish, ideally about 1/3-inch to 1/2-inch thick; cut into 3-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons full-fat skyr, greek yogurt, or creme fraiche, for serving
- A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Crusty bread, for serving
- Zest the orange; juice the orange into a small bowl and set aside.1/2 orange
- Cook the aromatics: Set a small french oven, dutch oven, or braiser over medium heat. Add the oil, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, shallot, garlic, and orange zest to the pan. Saute for 3-5 minutes, or until the aromatics are golden-brown and crisp. Season with a pinch salt and pepper.2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 shallot, 2 garlic cloves, Salt and black pepper
- Add the tomato paste: Reduce the heat to medium-low, then stir in the tomato paste. Saute for 2-3 minutes, or until the tomato paste is a deep brick red color and the oil has separated.3 tablespoons tomato paste
- Reduce the wine and orange juice: Add the white wine and orange juice to the pan and stir to combine, scraping up any stuck bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until about half the liquid has reduced and the alcohol smell has dissipated.1/4 cup dry white wine
- Simmer the broth: Add the fish sauce (if using) and water. Bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, and stir in the butter. At this point the mixture should have thickened slightly and taste aromatic and tomato-ey, but not too acidic or sharp (otherwise, continue simmering to develop the flavors). There may be a thin layer of oil on top of the sauce; this is normal! Season with salt and pepper.Be generous here with the salt, as you want to make sure the broth is well-seasoned for the fish to cook in. Note that the sauce has several layers of acidity from the tomato paste, wine, and orange juice, so a generous pinch of salt will help balance and bring out the savory notes in the dish.1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 1/2 cups water, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- While the sauce simmers, season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides.3/4 pound cod, halibut, or another firm white fish
- Cook the fish: Carefully add the fish to the pan and reduce the heat to a low simmer (there should be small bubbles all around the surface of the pan; if you see large, vigorous bubbles, reduce the heat). Simmer for 3 to 6 minutes until cooked through, meaning a fork inserted into the center of the fish will gently flake the meat without resistance.Note: The fish should mostly be submerged into the liquid, but if it's not, you can occasionally spoon some of the hot liquid over the top as you simmer it.
- Serve: Carefully remove fish from the pan with a spatula and divide amongst two serving bowls. Taste and season the broth once more, if needed, then spoon the sauce over the top of the fish. Dollop with skyr (or greek yogurt or creme fraiche). Garnish with parsley and serve immediately with a side of crusty bread.2 tablespoons full-fat skyr, greek yogurt, or creme fraiche, A handful of flat-leaf parsley, Crusty bread