Main Course,  Recipes,  Sauces

Pan Roasted Salmon with Braised Fennel and Port Wine Reduction

It’s that time of year again; wild salmon season. But you ask, “Isn’t salmon always available?” The short answer is yes, but the salmon you see most of the year in the grocery store and on restaurant menus is farmed Atlantic, not wild. Why is that an important distinction? Because wild salmon not only tastes better, it’s better for you. A few years ago, I wrote a post about why wild salmon is so special, including a recipe for Wild Salmon with Quinoa, Dandelion Greens and Parsley Pistachio Vinaigrette and I don’t think I can explain it any better than I did back then, so here goes:

Think of it as the difference between an animal raised on a farm, kept in a pen, fed a diet of processed feed, antibiotics and colorants vs. one which has had the freedom to follow its natural path, eating the same food its ancestors have for thousands of years with nothing else added.

Salmon are anadromous fish which means they are born in a fresh water river, migrate out to the sea, and when they are ready to spawn, they swim back upstream to procreate in the exact same spot they were born. In order to do this, they feed and fatten themselves up for the journey because they need to expend a ton of energy to get upstream. It’s at this point that the fishermen capture them, at the mouth of the river, when they are at the absolute peak of their existence. While it may sound sad to capture an animal in the prime of its life, many are allowed to get through to continue the cycle of life. And trust me, you don’t want to eat them after they have spawned. They stop feeding once they enter the river and are quite literally spent at the end of their journey. The salmon I cooked was Columbia River King Salmon which is supposed to have the highest oil content of any salmon out there because they have the longest trip upriver to swim. This oil adds flavor and those good omega filled fish oils we all hear about.

This year, the first of the season wild salmon is again coming from the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. The recipe I’m sharing today includes braised fennel and red pearl onions which pair well with the earthy flavor of the salmon. The port wine reduction adds a touch of sweetness with a bit of acidity from balsamic vinegar.

Tell me, do you make a point of buying wild salmon when it’s available? Do you go fishing for it? My grandfather did when I was a kid, and I regret that I didn’t like salmon back then!




Pan Roasted Wild Salmon with Braised Fennel and Port Wine Reduction

Pan Roasted Salmon with Braised Fennel and Port Wine Reduction
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time55 minutes


  • 4 pieces of salmon skin-on
  • 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 fennel bulbs about 2 lbs with stems
  • 10 oz red pearl onions
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 short branches of fresh rosemary about .25 oz
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Port Balsamic Reduction

  • 1 cup red wine
  • ½ cup Port wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  • kosher salt and black pepper


  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To Braise the Fennel:

  • Cut the stalks off the fennel bulb and trim the root end. Reserve some of the fennel fronts for garnish if desired. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise and then each half into 4 wedges.
  • Cut the stem ends off the pearl onions and then peel off the outer skin. Leave the onions whole.
  • Heat a large sauté pan and add the olive oil. Add about half of the fennel in a single layer in the pan and cool until golden brown. Turn the fennel over and cook the other side. Season with salt and pepper. When both sides are brown, move the fennel pieces to a 9”x13” baking dish.
  • Cook the remaining fennel pieces along with the pearl onions until brown and add them to the baking dish.
  • While the sauté pan is still hot, add the wine and chicken stock, bring to a simmer, then pour over the fennel and onions in the baking dish. Add the rosemary branches to the pan and then place the pan in the oven, uncovered.
  • Cook for 35-45 minutes or until the fennel is tender.

To cook the salmon:

  • Place the pieces of salmon on a plate skin side up. Pat dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a large sauté pan and then add the oil. Using long tongs, gently place the salmon in the hot pan, skin side down. Depending on the thickness of the fish cook for about 4-5 minutes until the skin is crispy and golden brown. Gently turn the fish over and cook the flesh side of the fish. If the piece is very thick, you may want to finish cooking the fish in the sauté pan, in the 400 degree oven (assuming it is in an oven-safe pan). Finishing in the oven will allow the fish to cook move evenly. You’ll want to allow about 5 minutes of cooking time for each inch of thickness of the fish.
  • To serve, remove some of the braised fennel and onions from the braising liquid and place them on a plate. Rest the pan roasted salmon on top, crispy skin side up.

Port Balsamic Reduction

  • In a small stock pot, add the red wine, port, and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook, reducing the liquid to a syrup. Watch it closely at the end of the reduction process because it can easily burn at this point.
  • When the liquid is thick (after about 20 minutes) remove from heat and whisk in a tablespoon of cold butter. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon sparingly over the fish and onto the plate.




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