Salmon recipes and wine pairings

Now that the rains have returned, so have our salmon. We are pretty fortunate to be able to watch the phenomenal life cycle of Pacific Northwest salmon in our backyards.

This return, and our growling tummies, got us thinking about how now would be the perfect time to offer some salmon recipes and wines to go with them. Coincidentally we’ve also had coverage in the paper and online this week about salmon, so we’re sticking with a fishy theme.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, go see the interactive map of some of the best viewing areas in Kitsap to see the returning salmon. Reporters Chris Dunagan and Amy Phan spent a lot of time updating the map and producing the videos.

Looking ahead, there will be a story in the Kitsap Sun Sunday Life Section by reporter Chris Henry about the tiny fishing village of Sekiu, where fishermen come together during salmon season to max out their limits.

This time of year, when salmon spawn, is a good time to dig up recipes that call for wood-smoked salmon (we’ll save the poached salmon recipes for the spring).

So what wine do we pair with salmon? It depends, dear reader, on the big picture. Think about the texture, weight and other prominent features of the entire dish.

Salmon is dense and fatty (all the good fats, mind you) and that component makes it a versatile fish. Depending on the texture and weight of the sauce, salmon can easily pair with a white, rosé or red wine.

So we look to the sauce to make the best match. A broiled fresh salmon served with a little lemon and butter is easy. Lemon and butter are lighter and crisper than say a Gorgonzola cream sauce. If you’re going to keep it simple and broil the salmon with lemon and butter, choose a wine that is lighter and crisper such as a Pinot Grigio or an Arneis.

If you want to add some weight and prepare a side dish with Gorgonzola cream sauce (see the recipe below), we suggest looking to a country where all but one wine region touches the sea.

Tortellini, Gorgonzola and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are staples in Italy. From the Abruzzi wine region, located in the calf area of the Italian boot, this wine is made from the Montepulciano grape — the second most produced wine in Italy behind Sangiovese. The medium-bodied weight, bright acidity and aromas and flavors of herbs and cherries make this the perfect wine for this rich dish. Most are under $10. Look for our favorite, Masciarelli 2009 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Tortellini with Smoked Salmon, Walnuts with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 3/4 cup smoked salmon
  • 8 oz. cheese tortellini (cooked)
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish

Cook cheese tortellini. In a large sauté pan, toast the walnuts on medium-high until golden. Reserve. Add the heavy cream and butter to the pan and bring to a gentile boil. Add Gorgonzola, garlic, basil, thyme, oregano and simmer until thickened. Continue to reduce for 2 to 4 minutes, and then add the smoked salmon. Then add the cooked tortellini. Toss until pasta is hot. Plate and garnish with Parmesan and toasted walnuts.

Planked Salmon

Another common way to cook salmon in the Northwest is using an alder plank. Native people of the Pacific Northwest first devised the method of cooking salmon on hardwood over an open fire. Today, however, we’re going for the quick and easy route of oven-baked using a piece of wood.

There are different planks that can be used. While we prefer the traditional alder plank, you can also consider other non-resinous hardwoods such as cedar, hickory, maple or oak. Naturally, the plank should be clean, at least an inch thick and large enough to accommodate the salmon.

Ordinary slabs of alder from a lumber mill are inexpensive, but they generally have to be replaced after the third or fourth time. You can also purchase an alder plank from a kitchen store. These are meant to be reused time and time again in the oven. With these planks you brush them with olive oil, then stick them in the oven for 30 minutes while it warms up. Once you remove the plank, turn the oven up to 350 degrees, throw the salmon on the plank, skin side down, and pop it back in the oven. (Remember when you take the salmon out to remove the skin, and the gray matter below it before serving).

If you choose a plank that isn’t designed for repeated reuse, make sure you soak it a minimum of four hours, or if you can overnight, before popping it in the oven or you may end up with blackened plank (and one heck of a mess in your oven).

So what “sauce” should you use when planking a salmon? Naturally you want something that will enhance those subtle smokey wood flavors.

One quick and easy answer is to slather the fish in a flavored butter. Or if you’re trying to kick a dependence on butter, consider substituting olive oil. Here’s one such recipe:

Flavored Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced flat leaf parsley, oregano, chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Soften the butter. Using a fork mash together the herbs with lemon zest until thoroughly combined, then add to the softened butter. Add the butter to the salmon while it’s still warm so it can spread while melting.

Also consider basting the salmon with an olive oil and a Herbs de Provence mixture. Brynn usually eyeballs the mix, but combine a couple tablespoons of olive oil with a tablespoon of the herbs (traditionally a combination of savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender), then spread evenly across the fillet.

Wine Pairing

Not only does a wood plank add delicious flavor and aroma to the fish, with complementary side dishes of simple boiled potatoes, caramelized onions and maybe a few decorative sprigs of herbs, it blossoms into a feast for the eyes, nose and growing appetite.

A perfectly cooked planked salmon with herb-seasoning and tiny potatoes is a marriage made in heaven.

The delectable fragrance of the fleshy textured salmon mingled with the aroma of the heated alder and herbed sauce will pair beautifully with an Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.(Trust us, we’ve tried and tested this pairing, more than once.)

Argyle is well established in Oregon’s Dundee region. And they have plenty of experience producing wines with the Pinot Noir grape, including some of the best sparkling wines.

This wine match works wonderfully with the planked salmon because of the bountiful flavors and aromas of ripe black cherry and hints of herb. It also sports a smooth cherry finish.