Is Something Fishy Here? Cooking Perfect Salmon.

Old-school, traditional, food and wine dogma dictates white wines pair with fish and red wines with meat.  However, rigidly adhering to this reductionist mantra deprives you of a terrific, new classic fish-wine pairing: pinot noir and salmon.  The meaty, fatty, yet delicate texture of salmon naturally partners with the velvety, smooth mouthfeel of good pinots.  One example includes pairing grilled salmon and a pinot redolent with smoky aromas.  The pinot's smokiness from the barrel oak "toast" mingles with the char on the grilled fish, merging the two flavors.  In foodiecon ("foodie lexicon"), this principle is called "bridging."  Sure summer is the ultimate grilling season, but with days already getting shorter, I thought I'd give you a basic "cook-it-in-the-kitchen" approach to salmon that can take you through the winter. Most people are afraid to cook fish.  Dry, overcooked fish is worse than catfood, while an unintentionally rare filet may leave dinner guests queasy.  My preferred technique is to pan sear the fish until the top is golden, and finish it in the oven.  Pan searing creates a great caramel color, seals in flavor and juices, and wins aesthetic points; then the oven's contained, dry heat can finish the job.

Rigorous culinary research and hours in the test kitchen yielded this easy recipe for a killer pinot-based sauce.  (Truth be told, a 30 second Google search unearthed this recipe from the New York Times, and I added the mushrooms.  But I did make the sauce 3 different times before sharing it with you).  With Brian's fishing extravaganza as inspiration, I give you my second cooking video:

Technique Tip #2: Perfect Seared Salmon with Pinot Noir Sauce


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4 fresh salmon filets, skin intact, about 6-8 ounces each

8 oz mixed exotic mushrooms (morels, cremini etc)

1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

½ cup sugar

2 cups pinot noir

1 small sprig rosemary


Freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons butter, divided


1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) To prepare mushrooms, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of butter in a small pan. When the oil is almost smoking, add mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms are brown and liquid absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

3) Place sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with rounded sides and heat to medium. Cook without stirring until sugar liquefies and begins to turn brown (10 minutes). Turn off heat and carefully add the wine. Turn heat to high, and cook, stirring, until caramel dissolves again. Add rosemary spring, and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally.  Remove the rosemary after about 5 minutes.  Then continue to cook the liquid until the mixture is thick and syrupy, reduced to just over ½ cup, about 10-15 minutes.

4) While sauce is reducing, heat oven-proof, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a small bowl. Brush each filet with oil. Season well with salt and fresh pepper. When pan is hot, add salmon skin-side up and sear 3-4 minutes until fish is golden in color. Flip fish so it is skin-side down. Transfer pan to the oven, and cook 10-12 minutes, until fish is opaque throughout and flakes easily with a fork. Remember, salmon is fatty so you have more leeway in the over-cooking department. But be judicious since salmon will continue to cook internally even after it's removed from the oven.

5) After your sauce is reduced, add balsamic vinegar and butter. Reduce heat to medium low, and cook until butter melts. Add your sauteed mushrooms to the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Serve the sauce over salmon.


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