Grilled Salmon with Mushrooms, Bacon and Oyster Sauce

A member recently asked me “Why don’t you suggest more salmon recipes with your pinot noirs?  That’s the classic pairing!”  Yeah but…as with any rule of thumb, blind application can be disastrous.  Salmon is an oily fish, which is why it’s so good for us.  But that oil fights with big pinots, leaving an almost tin-like aftertaste that is offensively unpleasant.  What to do?  Two things – first, grill the salmon, the caramelization reduces this interaction.  Second, select a wine that leans towards the austere side – Burgundy, New Zealand, Oregon, Sonoma Coast, cooler years in Russian River or Carneros.  Then you’ll have a perfect pairing!  (other wine considerations, Riesling, Albarino, Vermentino, or bigger dry or off-dry Rosés)

Ingredients (serves 4)
1+ lb Salmon fillet(s)
Salt and pepper to taste
5 Slices bacon cut into 1” squares
1 Cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 Clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley
3 Tbsp Chinese oyster sauce
½ Cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp chopped parsley or chervil

Procedure
Prepare your grill for direct heat (coals directly underneath the fish).  Season the salmon with olive oil, salt and pepper and return to refrigerator until ready to grill (it’s almost always best to grill fish cold, but meat at room temperature).

In a bowl, combine the oyster sauce and the chicken broth. Set aside.  Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium high heat for two or three minutes, then add the bacon.  When crispy but not too dark, place bacon in a mesh strainer to drain the fat, and reserve 1-2 Tbsp of the fat in the pan.

To the pan add the shiitake mushrooms and sauté until golden brown. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the parsley. After 1-2 minutes add the minced garlic and cook another 30 seconds, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the oyster sauce/chicken broth mixture and reduce over medium-high heat for several minutes.  Keep warm.

Mop your hot charcoal grill with oil and then quickly put the salmon on the grill – if you have skin on your salmon fillets, place the non-skin side down first, cooking for a long minute before flipping to the skin-side down.  Grill the salmon until done to your liking – I like to use a fairly high heat so the skin gets crispy and the center is still pink and moist.  Note, salmon often takes longer to cook than is often thought.

Meanwhile, back on your stove top – crumble the bacon into the sauce and combine.  Top each salmon fillet with sauce and garnish with chopped parsley or chervil.

Suggested Pairings – Wild rice pilaf and grilled spring peas tossed with extra virgin olive oil and good sea salt.  Pure heaven!

Rhone-Style Red Wine with Bistro Jeanty’s Tomato Soup

Many of my suggested wine-and-food pairings are discoveries I’ve made after trying them at some of my favorite eateries.  While this may seem like an open-court layup, you’d be surprised how often such pairings fail to inspire much more than a shrug.  Not so with Bistro Jeanty, whose tomato soup is a great side for a robust grilled cheese sammy!

Bistro Jeanty

INGREDIENTS (Serves 6)
1/2 Stick (+ 1 TBSP) unsalted butter 1 1/2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Yellow onion, peeled, halved and sliced 1 1/2 Lbs Ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
3 Cloves garlic, minced 2 Cups (1 Pint) Heavy cream
1/2 Bay leaf 2 Pinches Ground white pepper
1 Scant tsp whole black peppercorns Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Thyme 1 Package frozen Puff Pastry
  1 Egg beaten with ½ Tbsp water

Preparation

In large stockpot over medium-low heat, melt the half stick of butter. Add onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Cover; cook 5 minutes or until onions are soft (do not let brown.)

Bistro Jeanty Tomato Soup

Add tomato paste; cook gently, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and if needed, 1/4 cup of water (only if tomatoes are not ripe and juicy). Simmer over low heat 30-40 minutes, or until tomatoes and onions are very soft.  Purée through food mill (Phillipe Jeanty prefers a food mill, but a stick blender followed by straining with mesh sieve are just fine).

Return soup to stockpot and add cream, pepper and remaining butter; season with salt. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled completely.  Divide soup among six 8-oz. ramekins, soup cups or bowls.

Roll puff pastry to 1/4-inch thickness and cut 6 roughly round shapes slightly larger than the tops of bowls you’ve chosen. Paint the rounds with egg wash and place, washed-side down, over the cups, making sure the soup does not touch pastry. Press overhanging dough against sides of cups, pulling lightly to make a taut lid. (Can be assembled 24 hours in advance if refrigerated and covered.)  Cut unused pastry into strips for dipping – roll in coarse salt, herbs, or Parmesan for added flavor.

To serve, lightly paint top of dough with egg wash. Bake at 450F 10-15 minutes or until dough is puffed and browned (do not open oven in first several minutes of cooking to prevent dough from falling).  Bistro Jeanty is in Napa Valley’s Yountville.  You must eat there on your next visit!  http://bistrojeanty.com/

Nacho Mama Surprise – Guest post

Part of my meandering career path found me in Chicago for several years, where I came across a direct marketing wiz named Elizabeth “Sunny” Heyer.   Little did I know she was also known as Naco Mama.  Here’s why.

Here’s a different take on nachos . . .  I used to make this when I lived in Boulder . . .from leftovers initially.  Take a baking dish and line with refried beans – a thin layer . . . then make ‘stripes’ across the beans using everything and anything that’s left over.  We started with a small piece of steak from a doggy bag, sliced, it made our first stripe.  Then we laid down some slices of leftover chicken next to it, then a stripe of sour cream, then a stripe of salsa, then some chopped veggies (any kind will do), and then… you get the drift!! One layer was different types of olives, then peppers – roasted or chili . . . depends on your taste. Once we added a stripe of rice and topped the whole dish with shredded jack cheese.  It’s fast, easy and you can put anything in it . . . I added cubed tofu to the rice and no one was the wiser – given that it was a meat eating, sprout stompin’ crowd.

Pop it in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes and serve with chips on the side . . . or spoon it directly into the mouth. . .  I named it ‘Nacho Momma Surprise’  and it became a huge hit at parties . . .

I always had it with wine. . . but it goes well with beer too!

Thanks Sunny!
Dave
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

Perfect Pairing – Pinot Noir with Roasted Squash Risotto

Every chef I know makes risotto differently.  And it seems they each believe their way is THE way to make it.  The only thing they can seem to agree on is that a good risotto should be creamy but not mushy – cook it too long and it turns to a glop best used to affix wallpaper.  And though this recipe is not simple, neither is it difficult to do – and the time required to make it is well rewarded by the pleasure it brings.

Ingredients (Serves 4 as main course, or 8 as first course)
6 ½ Cups low-sodium, Organic chicken stock
4 Ozs pancetta, chopped fine (1/4” square)
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Large onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ Cup Arborio rice
2 Cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
½ Cup white wine, not heavily oaked
2 tsp garlic, micro-minced
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, destemmed and chopped
4 Ozs fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced thin
¼ – ½ Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 Ozs fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
Salt and Pepper

Procedure
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees (F).  Set a large sauce pot on a back burner over low heat and begin warming the chicken stock.
Heat a large, oven-proof stock pot or Dutch oven over med-high heat for 2-3 minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and when the oil is hot enough to shimmer (but not smoke), add the squash.  Sauté until it starts to brown – about 5 minutes – stirring so each side of the squash makes contact with the pan.  Move your pot from the stove to the oven for 8 -10 minutes or until the squash is tender but not mushy.  Remove from oven, transfer squash into a bowl (set the pot aside, we’ll use it again in a minute) and gently stir the minced garlic into the squash.  Set aside.
Heat a 12” sauté pan over med-high heat for two minutes, then stir in 2 Tbsp of the butter.  As soon as the foam subsides, add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and fresh pepper and sauté for ~5 minutes without touching.  As soon as the bottom mushrooms show good browning, begin stirring and continue cooking for a minute AFTER the mushroom liquid has all cooked off, then set aside.
Increase heat to high under chicken stock.  Heat your large, empty squash pot over medium-high heat, add another Tbsp of the oil and sauté the pancetta until brown.  Add the onion and sauté until soft, ~5 minutes.  Add the Arborio rice and begin stirring (for the next 30 minutes!)  But first, after a full 2 minutes of stirring the hot rice, add the white wine and simmer until nearly absorbed.
Add the first cup of hot chicken stock to the rice.  Stirring often, add more liquid as soon as it is nearly absorbed – more frequently at first as the rice gets saturated after about 20 minutes, when the rice will be “al dente” tender. Gently stir in the thyme, squash and mushrooms.  Add another ½ cup of stock, the parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of butter and gently combine.  Taste for salt and pepper.  The rice should be creamy and tender.
Enjoy!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Perfect Pairing – Malbec with Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

Because of the slow cooking, the lamb practically melts in your mouth.  Which is reason enough to try it, but it also boasts an earthiness that I like with a good Argentinian Malbec.  One of the nice things about Malbecs from Argentina’s Mendoza region is their affordability.  But sadly, their quality is inconsistent, so be sure to confer with a trusted wine merchant for a recommendation before parting with the $20 or so you’ll need to find a good one.

Ingredients (Serves 6+)
 2 Lbs lamb shank
 10 small onions
 4 Cups water
 5 tomatoes – blanched, peeled and chopped (or one can organic chopped tomatoes)
 2 Sprigs fresh parsley
 2 Sprigs fresh thyme
 2 cloves garlic, chopped
 2 Bay leaves
 2 (15 Oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
 1 pound cubed ham3 Sweet Italian sausages

Procedure
Boil the lamb in the four cups of water until it’s falling-off-the-bone tender.  Remove from heat but RESERVE THE LAMB BROTH for later. Once the lamb has cooled, cut into bite-sized cubes/pieces.

Using a generous square of cheesecloth (photo), secure the parsley, thyme and bay leaf with kitchen twine, leaving a long leash on the garni, so you can easily pull it from the stew later.  Place the herb bundle, the lamb, ham, onions, tomato and garlic in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the reserved lamb broth and enough water to equal four cups. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low and simmer for an hour.

Meanwhile, remove the sausage meat from the casings and brown lightly, breaking up into fork-sized crumbles. Remove sausage from heat, drain off fat, and reserve.

Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.  After the stew has simmered for an hour, stir in the beans and sausage and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, or more if you want a thicker consistency.

The deep flavors of this dish work very well with the tannin and fruitiness of the Malbec, both of which offer warm comfort on a winter evening.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Eileen’s “Dead Easy” Leg of Lamb

My wife and I enjoy a wide variety of people, but especially those who appreciate good food.  This dish always reminds us of Jeff & Eileen, our two foodie friends who introduced us to it, and it to us.

Their recipe works on many levels – it’s dead easy and affordable, it fills the house with the enticing aromas of garlic and Rosemary, and it tastes fantastic.

This highly seasoned dish calls for an earthy red wine, though frankly, it’s not that picky about what type – a wide variety of varietals will compliment this warm winter dish.  Try a Monastrell (AKA Mourvedre), a good red from the North of Italy, or a cool-climate pinot noir.

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Ingredients
3 ½ – 4 lbs bone-in leg of lamb
2-3 Cloves garlic, peeled
1 Oz Sea salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
3-5 Rosemary sprigs,about 6 inches long

Procedure
Pre-heat oven to 375℉.  Using the flat side of a broad knife (or any convenient and flat surface) smash the garlic on your cutting board.  Using the oil and salt as grit, chop and mash the garlic into a paste, then spread evenly on lamb and rub.  Place the meat on a wire rack in a roasting pan (OK, do as I say, not as done in the photo!) with about an inch of water and the Rosemary sprigs in the bottom of the pan.  Put in oven and set timer 15 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes (ex. – a 4 pound roast would get 4 X 15 = 60, plus the extra 15 = 1 hour, 15 minutes).  This simple timing formula produces a roast leg with a nicely pink center and some nice crusty bits at the ends for those who prefer their meat with less (or no) color.  Remove from oven, cover, and allow to sit for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve with roasted potatoes and a green vegetable.  Pairs well with a variety of red wines, though I prefer those with a bit of earthiness, such as pinotnoir, Mourvedre (Monastrell),  or most red wines of Northern Italy.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Easy Bacon, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart

Years ago, long before I worked in wine, I visited wine country whenever extra time and money made themselves available.  Over the years, I warmed the sheets in quite a few wine country Inns. This tart recipe is from one such place – Sonoma’s Hidden Oak Inn.  It features a tangy goat cheese which is the classic pairing with crisp Sauvignon Blanc, both items being native to the Loire Valley, where one is seldom found without the other.

It is a simple recipe, but an enjoyable one – a perfect combination.  It calls for a frozen pie crust, but those with the inclination and time can certainly bake their own.

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Ingredients (Serves 6-8)
5 Slices bacon, fried, drained & crumbled
½ Lbs (8 Ozs)  goat cheese
1 Tbsp bacon grease
1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 Shallot, finely chopped
½ tsp Salt
~ 5 spears of asparagus, stalks shaved and then cut in 1-inch pieces
½ tsp pepper
½ Lbs puff pastry, defrosted
1 Egg yolk

Procedure

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Sauté shallot in 1 tablespoon of bacon grease for about 1 minute.  Add asparagus and cook over medium-high heat until the asparagus is tender.  Remove the pan from heat and add crumbled bacon.  On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll out the pastry to a 10 by 16-inch rectangle.  Transfer the pastry and the parchment to a baking sheet.Using your fingers, pat the goat cheese onto the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge.  Sprinkle the asparagus, bacon and shallot mixture evenly over the goat cheese.  Sprinkle with fresh basil and season with salt and pepper.  Whisk together the egg yolk and a splash of water (~1.2 tsp) then brush the edge of the tart with egg wash.Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.

Let cool slightly, slice and serve warm with a simple salad of mixed greens splashed with really good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.  Pairs perfectly with a crisp white wine such as a racy Sauvignon Blanc or old world Chenin Blanc.

Cheers, Dave the Wine Merchant

Love-Rubbed Breast of Duck

This recipe features “Love Rub” – another way to incorporate our Valentine’s Day theme into your wine and food experience.  But don’t pigeon hole this recipe and make it just once a year, it is delicious and memorable any time of the year.

“Love Rub” originally came from Jim Reichardt, founder and proprietor of Sonoma County Poultry, home of the Liberty Ducks (800-953-8257, and yes, they ship nation-wide). Though one may find humor in that name for ducks who are hardly at liberty to die a natural death, the death they encounter is more humane than most natural causes. Jim founded the company in response to local Chefs, who needed a larger and more flavorful duck on their customer’s plates. The Liberty Duck is descended from the famed Pekin Duck developed in Denmark, and is better suited to today’s slower, less stressful rearing techniques (to wit, Jim uses no growth hormones or antibiotics.)

To make this rub, simply blend everything together until well combined. Pairs beautifully with aged cabernet or pinot noir.

“Love Rub” INGREDIENTS
¼ Cup brown Sugar 1 tsp Cumin
2 Tbsp Paprika (sweet, not hot) 1 tsp Ground white pepper
2 Tbsp Kosher salt ½ tsp Ground black pepper
1 Tbsp dried Thyme ½ tsp Coriander
1 Tbsp chili powder ¼ tsp Ground nutmeg
2 tsp Dried oregano Small pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice blend ¼ tsp Cinnamon

Ingredients (Serves Four)
* 4 breasts, Liberty Duck
* ¼+ Cup Love Rub
* That’s all!

Procedure
Trim the duck breasts of excess fat – no more than ¼ to ½ inch around the entire breasts – but not too much, as you want the rendering fat to add flavor during cooking. Place breasts in a large, sealable plastic storage bag, pour in the love rub, and integrate well. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to prepare dinner, remove from the bag and pat dry with paper towels. Place fat-side-down on the grill using indirect heat – slow cooking is the key to perfectly cooked duck breast. After 8-10 minutes, turn fat-side up and cook until medium rare. Do not overcook. Breast meat is lean “white” meat, and prone to drying out if over-cooked.

To serve, slice at an angle and sprinkle lightly with more Love Rub.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Roast Chicken with Orange-Honey Glaze

I’m a huge fan of honey.  And this recipe was posted by some online wine friends currently on an extended tour of Australia.  Not only am I thoroughly jealous of their travels, but they also had the chance to don bee suits and inspect the world’s last genetically pure strain of bees. Pair this dish with some nice vegetables sautéed with sliced garlic and it makes an easy mid-week meal.

A Chardonnay works well with this dish, particularly if the oak is moderate and the acidity is good,  because it bridges across to the orange-and-honey glaze, the salt of the chicken and the vegetables, and, well, everything.  If your palate leans towards wines with a bit of sweetness, try a dry muscat or Riesling.  I think Viognier would work quite well, though look for one with alcohol below 14.5% if it’s to work well with this bright dish.

Ingredients
* Whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
* Juice of one orange
* 2 Tbsp honey
* 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce

Procedure

Pre-heat oven to 400℉.  Stir together the orange juice, honey and soy until the honey is dissolved.  Wash and thoroughly dry the chicken (some chefs recommend letting the skin dry out for a day in the refrigerator).

Baste both sides with the honey liquid. Place a rack inside a roasting pan, chicken on the rack (not touching, if possible and roast for ~50 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 185℉.

This next step is a royal pain in the patootie, but if you can baste the chicken pieces with the pan drippings every 5-10 minutes, you’ll be thrilled with the crispy skin that it creates.  Make sure the skin doesn’t burn – the sugars in the honey make it easy to do!

Cheers,
Dave the Wine Merchant
866-746-7293

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Caramelized Shallot Sauce

Early in my nascent bachelor days, when I was living on my own and on a very limited budget, this was my go-to dish whenever I needed to impress a guest. Although I’ve paired it here with a new world pinot noir, I also like the higher acidity of Burgundy or New Zealand pinots, or even an unoaked Chablis or California Chardonnay, which works better with the sharp Swiss cheese than does an oaked version of same.

Ingredients (Serves 6)

6 (~ 4-Oz) skinless, boneless chicken breasts For The Sauce:
6 Slices prosciutto, fairly thick 1 Cup thinly sliced shallots
6 Slices Gruyère cheese 2 tsp tomato paste
1 1/2 Cups arugula, stems removed 2 Cups dry white wine
1/2 tsp ea. salt and ground black pepper 2 1/4 Cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kitchen twine (i.e., food grade) 1 1/2 tsp Water
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tsp Cornstarch

Procedure

Preheat oven to 350°.  Place a shallow baking pan in the oven for later.

To prepare the chicken, place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap (tip, sprinkle the wrap with water to prevent sticking and splitting).  Using a meat mallet or any heavy, flat item, pound each breast to 1/4-inch thickness.  Top each chicken breast with 1 slice prosciutto, 1 slice cheese, and 1/4 cup arugula, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Fold in half (the long way) and tie with string to form a cylinder.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper as most will remain in the pan. (The chicken can be prepared up to a day ahead and refrigerated at this point.)

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat for three minutes.  Remove from heat, and cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil, then add the shallots and sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Stirring constantly, add the tomato paste and after 1 minute add the wine as you continue to stir.  Increase heat to high (you can stop stirring now) and bring to a boil, cooking until reduced to 1 cup (about 6 minutes). Stir in the broth and bring to a boil again. Cook until reduced by half (about 8 minutes).  Turn heat to low and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for three minutes. Remove from heat and coat the entire bottom with a thin layer of olive oil, then add chicken and return pan to heat, cooking until golden brown, <9 minutes total.  When ready to move the chicken to the baking pan, turn off the oven and keep warm while you finish the sauce.

When sauce is reduced by half, dissolve the cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Add to sauce, bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

To serve, remove strings from each breast, top with sauce and serve with polenta, a steamed green vegetable.  I like to lean the chicken half way onto the polenta to break up the symmetry.

Bon Appétit!
Dave the Wine Merchant

866-746-7293

dave@sidewayswineclub.com