Swimming in gentle flavor.
After about the millionth time I threw some cod filets in the oven and broiled them the same (albeit tasty) way I always do for dinner, with lemon, butter, and dill, I needed a new move. Fish is one of the healthiest and sustainable proteins out there — provided that you buy the right fish. And this recipe for fish poached in coconut milk, adapted from Colu Henry, made our night. It is a simple, elegant meal with gentle but amazing flavor.
You’ll also like: New England Fish Chowder and Thai Coconut Chicken Curry
A Word About Sustainable Fish
I recommend that everyone print and keep handy this fold-up seafood guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which tells you which fish are the best, ok, and worst choices both for safety and sustainability.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, good choices include:
- Arctic Char (farmed)
- Bass (US farmed)
- Catfish (US)
- Clams (farmed), Cockles, Mussels (farmed)
- Cod: US, Atlantic
- Crab: King, Snow & Tanner (AK)
- Oysters (farmed & Canada)
- Prawn (Canada & US)
- Rockfish (AK, CA, OR & WA)
- Sablefish/Black Cod (AK)
- Salmon: New Zealand, Atlantic (BC & ME farmed) (CA, OR & WA)
- Scallops (farmed)
- Shrimp (US farmed)
- Tilapia (Canada, Ecuador, Peru & US)
- Trout (US farmed)
- Tuna: Albacore (trolls, pole and lines)
- Tuna: Skipjack (Pacific trolls, pole and lines)
- Bass: Striped (US gillnet, pound net)
- Cod: Atlantic (gillnet, longline, trawl)
- Cod: Pacific (Japan & Russia)
- Crab (Argentina, Asia & Russia)
- Halibut: Atlantic (wild)
- Spiny Lobster (Belize, Brazil, Honduras & Nicaragua)
- Mahi Mahi (imported)
- Salmon (Canada Atlantic, Chile, Norway & Scotland)
- Shrimp (non-US)
- Squid (Argentina, China, India, Thailand)
- Swordfish (imported longline)
- Tilapia (China)
- Tuna: Albacore (imported, except trolls, pole and lines)
- Tuna: Atlantic Bluefin (imported longlines), Pacific & Southern Bluefin, Skipjack (imported purse seines), Yellowfin (imported longlines except US)
It’s all a little hard to navigate, but for our purposes, the point is that US and Atlantic cod is sustainable. So let’s talk more about this effortless, gorgeous recipe.
Recipe Notes: Fish Poached in Coconut Milk
This recipe is closely adapted from the wonderful Colu Henry’s coconut-poached fish recipe for the New York Times. Her recipe errs on the mild side, so I tweaked the seasoning a bit. This can be made mild or spicy by simply adding or eliminating the hot Thai bird chili pepper. I love bird chilis, which give a real warmth without tasting harsh or making steam come out of your ears.
How to poach — and not poach — fish:
- Do keep the coconut milk at a gentle simmer. This allows the fish to remain tender, and gives enough time for the fish, shallot, garlic, and other ingredients to permeate the coconut milk, and vice versa.
- Do not boil the coconut milk. This will toughen the fish and cook it before the flavors can come together.
Bok choy is the preferred vegetable here. But I could also see Napa cabbage, Swiss chard, spinach, or Chinese broccoli working well as a substitute.
Did you make this coconut milk-poached cod recipe? How did it turn out?
Fish Poached in Coconut Milk
- 24 ounces fresh cod filets
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
- 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 Thai bird chili, peeled and sliced into very thin rounds (optional)
- 2 13-ounce cans coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar or coconut sugar
- 7 ounces bok choy, bottoms removed and chopped into large pieces
- 1/4 cup roughly-chopped cilantro
- 2 scallions, green and light green parts, sliced thin
- 2 limes, 1 for juice and one for wedges to serve
- kosher salt, to taste
- Season the fish with a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. Set aside.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat with the oil. Add the shallot, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper (if using). Cook, stirring, until the shallot is translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Whisk in the coconut milk, juice of 1 lime, fish sauce, brown sugar or coconut sugar, and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and add the fish. Turn the heat to low and cover. Poach the fish at a low simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Do not boil or the fish will be tough.PRO TIP: You will know the fish is cooked when it has turned very white and flaky.
- Remove the fish with a slotted spoon or spatula and divide it into the bowls.
- Add the bok choy to the coconut milk liquid and raise the heat to medium-low. Cook until just tender but not mushy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Taste the broth for seasoning.
- Divide the bok choy and broth among the bowls. Top with scallions, cilantro, and a couple of lime wedges. Serve hot.