Perfect Pairing: Cider-Poached Salmon with Pinot

The bane of the amateur gardener is that everything gets ripe all at once. And eating tons of the same produce, meal after meal, day after day, week after week… one’s tastebuds quickly tire.   So freezing, drying, canning, gifting and other forms of creative storage become highly valued.

And if a bunch of apple trees happen to grow on your property, you eventually ask for a cider press when your handy-man Father in-law asks for Christmas ideas.  You can see what he came up with in the photo here – looks as if it should be launched!  It’s just a happy coincidence that his name is Johnny, one long associated with apples and their seeds.

The first cider from our late-ripening tree was so delicious, I’ve spent some enjoyable hours conjuring up or searching for recipes that feature cider.  Like this one, which I came across in Wine Spectator, for a Cider-Poached salmon.  It’s been adapted slightly from its original version (as seen in “Maine Classics: More Than 150 Recipes From Down East,” by Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. Running Press) to make it a bit more Pinot friendly.  But it already had a good start, and the bonus of featuring Morgan’s 2009 12-Clones Pinot Noir ($32), a wine I’d recently featured in one of our wine club shipments.

INGREDIENTS
1 gallon apple cider
2 tsp each fresh rosemary and thyme (with extra for garnish)
¼ cup (plus 1/4 tsp) brown sugar or 3 Tbsp Maple Syrup
2 Tbsp fennel seed
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground pepper
6 Salmon fillets, 4-6 oz. each
1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 – 2 Generous pinches Cinnamon and Cumin
4-6 Tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

PROCEDURE
1. Heat cider in a fish poacher or (if you haven’t stocked up on Williams Sonoma’s entire storew-wide inventory yet!) a broad-based, saucepan, until liquid is reduced by half its height.

2. Add the rosemary, thyme, brown sugar (or syrup), fennel seed, salt and pepper. Bring to a
full boil and then reduce to just below a simmer – you want steam but no bubbles.

3. Gently place the salmon in the liquid and cook for 6 minutes.  Test for doneness (I suggest an instant-read thermometer, but you can pull one out and take a peek at its center.

4. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a sauté pan until melted but not smoking.  Add apples and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the aromatic spices (Cinnamon and Cumin) and the additional 1/4 teaspoon of brown sugar (not too sweet or it will fight with the wine!)

5. Using a slotted spatula, remove the salmon directly from the poaching liquid to individual serving plates, and garnish with the poached apples and a sprinkling of the fresh chopped herbs. 

Serve with steamed broccolini or asparagus and good rolls warmed in the oven.  

Wine Pairings – You can’t go wrong with any of the lighter style Pinots from cooler growing regions (Sonoma Coast, Monterey, Anderson Valley, New Zealand, Germany…) – you’ll find many options in our virtual Pinot Aisle – as well as a nice Pinot Gris or even a richer, off-dry Rosé.  

Pinot is for Salmon. Right?

Ask any wine geek what to pair with a Pinot Noir, and you’ll soon hear the word “salmon”. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction.  But unless your taste buds are completely dead, you’ve likely noticed that many new world Pinots fight mightily with the fishy oils that are part of the tasty goodness of salmon.

Not All Pinots Are Salmon Pinots!
Which Pinots are the biggest offenders?  Pinots high in alcohol, deep in color, big in fruit and resplendent with Volatile Acidity that borderlines on too much (but which helps the nose and initial flavor pop out of the glass!)… in other words, some of the wine world’s highest scoring wines.  These Pinots can be delicious wines, and I carry many such wines and sometimes recommend them heartily.  Just not with salmon.

But if you find just the RIGHT Pinot, and pair it with a wild caught salmon (when pairing with pinot, I prefer the salmon grilled rather than poached), it can be a little slice of heaven.  To find such a wine is easy – just peruse my tasting notes in my rather extensive portfolio of Pinots.  My favorite salmon wines from my current portfolio? Labyrinth, Four Graces, Phillips Hill and Staete Landt (New Zealand).

Cheap Salmon – Not Worth the Savings!
But as with any food topic these days, and particularly with the gourmet food and wine crowd, the conversation quickly turns to sustainability.  And any posting that involves salmon seems irresponsible if it doesn’t excoriate one against the consumption of farm-raised salmon.  Such farms, as you likely know, result in such toxic conditions that not only does it kill all life for the many square miles under the salmon confinements, but the salmon must also be fed huge doses of anti-biotics to avoid becoming ill.  And the genetically altered fish, when the inevitable lucky few escape, can breed with wild salmon and alter the genetic blood line, making the wild salmon less sustainable in their own right.  

Fortunately, there are some highly sustainable farms beginning to emerge in inland lakes, where the salmon farm is by definition, self-contained.  Such farms don’t use anti-biotics, as there is no need.  And the lake remains healthy and vibrant as an ecosystem.  But other than these pleasant exceptions, I urge you to “just say no to farm-raised salmon”.   Fortunately, more and more of us are voting with our pocket books, and the “Salmon Safe” movement is well afoot, as you can see in the following video I found on the E’Cole Winery website. 

Salmon Safe Video

 

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!