Moist heat cooking methods are used to tenderized the meat, or to keep it from getting tough. Generally, the methods are more gentle so they can be used for more fragile items, such as poaching delicate lean fish fillets, but they can also infuse flavor into the fish fillets, such as making paella.

Four great moist heat methods are steaming, poaching, braising, and simmering.

Steaming Fish and Shellfish

Steaming is cooking seafood by surrounding it in steam. Don’t limit yourself to plain water. By using a flavorful liquid, the steam can help flavor whatever is being steamed. Try vegetable and fish stocks, beer, fresh herbs, spices, citrus rinds, and more.

“En Papillote” is a variation on steaming, where the seafood is placed with herbs and/or vegetables in a parchment paper pouch that is crimped tightly to form a seal. The fish is steamed by the natural juices that accumulate. This is generally opened table side as a great presentation piece for dinner.

Poaching Seafood

Poaching is cooking seafood in a liquid that is hot, but not bubbling. The liquid used in poaching, such as a stock, fumet, wine, broth, or court bouillon, all need to be of good quality and flavorful. Temperatures for poaching are between 160°F to 185°F— meaning the liquid needs to be hot but bubbles should not actually break the surface. Fish poachers are preferred because you can remove the fish without disturbing the meat.

Braising Fish

Braising is cooking seafood in a very small amount of liquid at the beginning, or browning it first  with not liquid added later – just cooking it in the natural juices that form from the ingredients. Examples of braised seafood dishes are paella and jambalaya. The liquid that is added, or even the liquid that forms during cooking, is to be served with the dish as a sauce.

Simmering Seafood

Simmering is cooking the seafood in its own juices. This technique is often used interchangeably with steaming, such as steaming clams.

Variations to Simmering Fish and Seafood

1. The seafood is cooked for a few minutes with other ingredients (like vegetables) over low heat in a small amount of butter or oil to extract juices. Sometimes more liquid is added (but very little), the pot is covered, and the seafood is allowed to cook in the steam that forms.

2. The seafood is placed directly in the pot with a small amount of liquid and/or flavoring ingredients. The pot is covered, the heat is raised, and the seafood is steamed. This technique is used for classic steamed clams.

Renee Shelton enjoys writing about fish and testing recipes, and serves as webmaster for Dana Point Fish Company. When she’s not handling seafood or out fishing, she can be found in the bakeshop talking about pastry. Visit her at, or send her a message using the contact form above.