You may think, “Red wine with fish? Isn’t that a no-no?” Not in this case. Salmon is a fish with robust flavor and it stands up well to a red wine, especially the light bodied fruity notes of Pinot Noir. Most of the wild salmon sold in the US comes from the Pacific Northwest which is also where pinot noir grapes grow well.
This is an emulsified sauce similar to the classic buerre blanc, but in using red wine, it is a buerre rouge. Take care to never let the sauce come to a boil and always whisk in very cold butter, a small amount at a time, over a very low heat, so the sauce does not break.
Wild salmon season traditionally begins in May and runs through September or October. If you have the change to buy wild salmon (as opposed to farm raised Atlantic salmon), do yourself a favor and buy it, even though it’s a little more expensive. it’s worth it. If you are wondering why, please read this from a post I wrote a few years ago for Wild Salmon with Quinoa, Dandelion Greens and Parsley Pistachio Vinaigrette:
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.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (see #8 below).
To make the sauce:
In a small heavy bottomed sauce pot, add the wine, vinegar and shallots. Cook over medium heat to bring the liquid to a simmer then reduce the heat to low.
Simmer on low until the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Take care not to allow it to burn near the end of the reduction.
Whisk in the cream. Then slowly whisk in 1 tablespoon of cold butter, one at a time, until it is all incorporated and the sauce is a creamy emulsion. Season the sauce with the salt and pepper.
Keep in a warm place on the stove top while cooking the salmon.
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 pieces of fish are very thick, you may want to finish cooking them in the 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.
I have to note, this recipe has a special place in my heart because a long time ago, when I was first a professional chef, this was on the menu of my restaurant. So the dish is a little traditional/old fashioned, but I think sometimes certain flavors transcend trends and this paring of salmon and pinot noir is one of them.