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


Macadamia-Encrusted Tilapia in Orange-Cream Sauce


For those concerned about the quality of their food supply, a valuable information resource is available at Seafood Watch (see map, above).  You’ll be pleased to note this recipe is not only delicious, but that Tilapia is recognized as one of the most sustainable sources of protein in the ocean.  Pair this recipe with a floral white wine such as Viognier, Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer  or even an unoaked Chardonnay.  Even a lighter off-dry Rosé works well here, though the wrong one will fight with the orange sauce.

Ingredients (Serves 6)
1 Small tilapia fillet per person (V-shaped)
¾ Cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ Cup buttermilk (or Half-n-Half)
2 Cups panko or toasted bread crumbs
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp finely chopped dill
½ Cup+ finely chopped macadamia nuts
2+ Tbsp olive oil

Sauce Ingredients
2/3 Cup orange juice
1/3 Cup half-and-half
1 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in ~ 1 Tbsp cold water
1 Tbsp fresh chopped dill

Rinse fillets and set on rack to drain – pat dry. Get out two large plates and a medium mixing bowl and create an assembly line in the following order:

–       Station #1 – on the first plate, mix together the flour, salt and pepper,
–       Station #2 – Pour the buttermilk in the bowl and place in the center,
–       Station #3 – On the last plate, mix together the panko, butter, dill and nuts.

Dredge each fillet in station #1, dip it in station #2, then dredge again station #3.  Refrigerating your breaded fillets for 30+ minutes will set the coating.  Discard any remaining flour and milk, but reserve the panko mixture for pre-frying touch-ups.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat for ~3 minutes, add the olive oil and coat evenly (I like to add a Tbsp of butter to the oil.  It browns better but is less healthy!)  Pan-fry the fillets until golden brown on each side (about 4 minutes per side for every inch of thickness).  Remove to a warm oven until ready to plate.

The Sauce – In a saucepan, whisk together all the sauce ingredients and heat over medium heat until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Serving Suggestion (see photo) – Serve on a bed of sautéed spinach (in a wide pan, warm some olive oil, dissolve 1-2 anchovies in the oil, mashing until liquefied, sauté spinach until just beginning to wilt, finish with lemon zest and toss).  Place fillets atop the bed of spinach.  Add sauce to plate beside fillets.  Enjoy!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my wine sampling program.  It was customized to showcase a floral white wine, such as those you’ll find here.