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TUESDAY TRIBUTES
05/08/2012
Tuesday Tributes
Salmon: A Fish for All Wines

By Stephen Eliot

Is there a protein that is more generous in its ability to mate with a wide variety of wine? Maybe, but not many.

The hot topic in the local culinary world hereabouts is Salmon. The Northern California commercial season opened last week, and after several years of closures due to dwindling numbers and disappointingly scarce harvests, 2012 is shaping up as the best catch in years.

Among San Francisco Bay Area gourmands, the excitement is downright palpable, and I admit to getting a little excited myself. I simply never get tired of the stuff, and, despite being able to find outstanding farmed Salmon such as Framgord’s and Black Pearl from the Shetland Islands and Verlasso from Chile’s Patagonian Coast, I must cast my vote for fresh, local, wild-caught King Salmon as the best of them all.

Salmon has always struck me as both a phenomenally versatile ingredient when it comes to cooking method and extraordinarily wine-friendly regardless of how it is prepared. It can be sautéed and poached, roasted and grilled. It can be a revelation when simply smoked, it can be delicious when served raw, and its inherent richness invites service with a host of flavorful sauces.

It is not at all uncommon at Chez Eliot, for the evening meal to be inspired first by the wine, and, with the exception of the heaviest reds such as Syrah, Petite Sirah, late-harvest Zinfandel and highly extracted, heavily oaked Cabernet Sauvignons, it is not at all hard to find a fine vinous match to any of Salmon’s so many variations.

A sleek and lively Sauvignon Blanc plays a fine foil to simply sautéed fillets that are brightened with a squeeze of lemon, while recipes where Salmon comes napped in richer sauces show off flavorful Chardonnays at their best. Well-seasoned grilled Salmon steaks usually leave me waffling between those same Chardonnays and a firmly built Pinot Noir when it comes time to choose. The case has been made, and I agree, that fruity, well-balanced Zinfandel is a surprisingly affable partner, and, finally, I confess a real fondness for a glass or two of good sparkling wine with most any Salmon preparation, a Brut Rosé such as that from Roederer Estate or Schramsberg being right at the top of my list.

A quick search on Google will yield an absolute treasure trove of marvelous recipes and specific wine-pairing recommendations, but when Salmon is on the menu, know that but for high-tannin bruisers or syrupy sweets, bad wine matches are rare, and the options are endless. Sad to say, the local Salmon season, however, is not, and there is no time like the present to enjoy two of Northern California’s greatest gifts.


Addendum from Charles Olken: Two of my most enjoyable salmon and wine pairings would seem to defy Steve’s suggestions, and certainly surprised me. The first came on a trip to France, at lunch with the Comte Lur-Saluce, owner of Chateau d’Yquem (please pardon the name-dropping). We had two courses, the second being that uniquely French combination of foie gras and his own wine. But it was the first, a piece of poached salmon in a cream sauce served with a Doisy Daene Sauterne that added a new wine and food combo to the Olken household repertoire of fancy dishes.

And, some years later, on a command visit to the Cuvaison winery up in the Napa Valley, the managing editor, who summoned me to discuss to how to make CGCW into a better publication (more maps was his prescription), I was served a jerk-seasoned salmon filet sautéed in butter and accompanied by the winery’s surprising rich and accessible Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

That is why, if I were isolated on a desert island with only one protein, it would be salmon.


 

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Comments

Great Title
by Christian Miller
Posted on:5/11/2012 11:47:32 PM

...and I agree. Let me add to your Salmon sampler:

--Poached salmon with a green sauce involving parsley, tarragon, capers, olive oil, lemon juice, etc. Just the thing for hyper-aromatic and green Sauvignons Blancs.

--wrap a filet in thin slices of pancetta and sage, then sear or grill it. Screams Pinot Noir or Chianti.

--roasted with asparagus and new potatoes and topped with sour cream, chives and dill. Pass the Gruner, please.

--poached in stock, coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, lime and ginger. Calling all Rieslings.

and on and on and on.

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