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The Easiest Way to Cook Salmon? Pour a Glass of Wine

Shallow poaching in wine turns salmon fillets into an easy, elegant dinner.
By Mary-Frances Heck
March 19, 2021

A perfectly cooked piece of fish is a thing of beauty, but nailing it can be tricky. That's why I'm a big fan of shallow poaching, a forgiving and foolproof technique that yields perfectly cooked fillets every time. The method, which involves briefly tenting the fish under a simple circle of parchment paper called a cartouche, is easy enough for first-timers to master yet versatile enough to spark inspiration for more experienced cooks.

To begin, sauté any allium that speaks to you. (I use leeks here, but shallots or spring onions would also be lovely.) Then, add the fish—any mild fillet or steak will do. (King salmon is a showstopper; cod, grouper, rockfish, and flounder work beautifully, too.) Next, tip in a generous splash of wine. Finally, top it all with a cartouche with a hole snipped in the center to create a vent. The cartouche drapes over the fish, forming a makeshift lid that allows for carefully controlled evaporation. During a brief stint in the oven, aromatic steam circulates around the fillets as the wine gently reduces, resulting in gorgeously cooked fish.

As a bonus, all of that flavorful cooking liquid becomes a luxurious pan sauce. Enriched with a little butter and some sweet cherry tomatoes, dinner is deliciously—and perfectly—done.

1. Make a Cartouche

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Fold a 12-inch square of parchment paper into a triangle. Trim outer edge to match curve of skillet; snip the tip to create a vent. Unfold and set aside.

2. Simmer Aromatics

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Cook thinly sliced lemons and leeks in butter and olive oil, stirring occasionally, until leeks are just wilted, about 5 minutes.

3. Add Salmon and Wine

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Place salmon and thyme in skillet; pour in wine. Top with cartouche, and roast as directed.

4. Remove from Oven

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Remove skillet from oven; peel back parchment cartouche, and set aside.

5. Set Salmon Aside

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Transfer salmon to a warmed serving platter; cover with cartouche while finishing the sauce.

6. Finish Sauce

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Bring pan juices to a simmer; add tomatoes and butter. Cook until creamy, about 2 minutes.

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely