Salmon - Wine & Dine

Hartford Magazine - 2003


When one half is involved professionally with food and the other half is involved with wine, it’s not so easy being a married couple. Most of our friends, and many who view us from afar, comment that surely this must be an absolutely perfect combination. I’m afraid it’s not so. Were they a fly on the wall at dinnertime, they would get a different take on our relationship!

While the one is making dinner, the other (we don’t need to say who is who do we?) brings over a glass a wine and shoves it under the other’s nose. With a smirk he asks, “What grape type is this? Betcha can’t guess.” Answers the other, “I don't know, but I can tell you that it won’t go with what I’m making for dinner. So you’re just going to have to go down to the cellar and choose something else!” The repartee continues with a different wine being chosen or the dinner tweaked somewhat to pair with the already-opened wine.

This amusing little skirmish is heightened to a minor campaign when we plan a dinner party. We need to decide which will be the feature. Will the evening showcase the wine or the food? Sure, we know that both are important and, for the most part, represent equal aspects of the dinner. But what kind of entrée is appropriate when the other insists on pulling out a subtle and grand old Margaux from Bordeaux from the 1986 vintage? The venerable old delicate Chateau Giscours certainly won’t pair well with a spiced-up dish that would show off culinary creativity of a higher order.

Then there are restaurants. The conflict spills into the public domain. One gets the menu, the other the wine list (once again, we don’t have to say who gets what!). But the banter continues with at least 20 minutes used for discussing the plan for the evening’s meal and corresponding wines.

Indeed, food and wine is a lifestyle for us. The ever-changing landscape of food and wine intrigue us. The dialogues, discussions and sometimes lighthearted disagreements gives us pleasure. The pairing of food with wine should be an enjoyable exercise, and any chance to demystify this important element in life is important for us. It’s this passion that makes food-and-wine pairing intellectual, sensual and pleasurable. And so with this new column we hope to stimulate you, and increase your knowledge and pleasure from the art of pairing food and wine.

In this column, we will feature a dish, sometimes our own, sometimes a restaurant favorite that you might make at home, and, of course, a few selected wine suggestions to steer you in the right direction–keep in mind, however, that there is never one match but many. We invite you to participate. If you discover some of you own pairings, let us know.

The Dine

For our first offering we have chosen one of Prudence’s own dishes that we often make when the weather starts to turn cold: Escalopes of Wild Salmon with a rich mushroom gravy flavored with thyme, white wine, garlic and shallots and served over sweet and white mashed potatoes.

This dish is comforting and hearty with just the right amount of sophistication. To make this dish more exotic, choose oyster mushrooms. They have a delicate flavor that works nicely with fish. Steelhead trout is a good substitute for salmon in this recipe. (I took out ‘any mushroom will work – salmon is that versatile’)

Escalopes of Sautéed Salmon with Mushroom-Thyme Gravy

Serves 4

Mashed White and Sweet Potatoes

Use equal amounts of white and sweet potatoes - about 2 small white potatoes and 1 large sweet potato. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes in their jackets for 15 minutes (depending on size) or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool enough to handle. Peel off the skin and mash with salt and pepper to taste and just enough milk or water to make them easily mashable.


1 pound wild salmon or steelhead trout cut into four 3/8-inch thick escalopes

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter or oil

Salt and pepper the salmon escalopes. Add the butter to a sauté pan and cook the salmon over medium-high heat for a minute or two—or until the edges turn white. Flip and sauté on the other side for one minute. Remove the salmon from the pan and hold aside.

Mushroom-Thyme Gravy

4 ounces mushrooms—preferably mitakes or oysters

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 teaspoons of fresh thyme

1/2 cup dry white wine

12 cherry tomatoes

2 cups chicken stock (a low-sodium can is fine)

1/2 cup frozen peas

3 tablespoons cold butter

Add one tablespoon of the butter to the sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium-high heat for three minutes or until just beginning to brown. Add the shallots and sauté for another minute. Add the garlic and thyme and toss with the mushrooms. Add the wine and simmer until the wine is almost evaporated. Add the chicken stock and continue simmering. At this point you can simmer the sauce until it has almost evaporated to a glaze. Then add more water or chicken stock to get the amount of sauce you want. Figure about 1/4 cup per person. Add the tomatoes and simmer for five more minutes or until the tomatoes begin to wilt. Add the peas and taste for seasoning. Remove from the heat and swirl in the cold butter. Place the salmon on the mashed potatoes in a large soup bowl or plate and drizzle the gravy around it. Top with a sprig of fresh thyme.

The Wine

This dish works equally well with white as it does with red. Even though this is a fish dish, the rich salmon, earthy mushrooms and heady gravy with a touch of tomato easily move this dish into the light red arena. But, at the same time, a full-bodied white can cut the richness of the salmon, balance well with the sweet potatoes and bring out the herbal tones of the thyme in the sauce.

Suggested wines:

2001 Lambert Bridge Sonoma County Chardonnay, California—This is an excellent full-bodied chardonnay with citrus and herbal overtones. There's plenty of lemon, apple, pear, hazelnut and vanilla flavors here. It’s a subtle wine, but has enough weight to handle rich sauces, and it can certainly hang in with the salmon ($21).

2000 Burgess Napa Valley, Triere Estate Vineyards Chardonnay, California—With ripe pear and apple flavors balanced with plenty of creamy oak this is a full-throttle chardonnay that will hold it’s own with this dish ($21).

2001 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, Oregon—Pinot Noir is a great salmon red. Winemaker Jim Bernau calls this wine, “a Pinot Noir on training wheels.” This particular Oregon version is light-bodied. It’s almost a Beaujolais style of wine and, in fact, a Beaujolais Villages from France could substitute as well ($15).

2000 David Bruce Pinot Noir Central Coast, California—From one of the great producers of Pinot Noir, this is a lush fruit-filled wine with great strawberry and cherry flavors ($22).

Some hints

Mounting a sauce with butter

Swirling very cold butter into a hot sauce is a classic French technique for enriching and thickening a sauce. Just before serving, remove the sauce from the heat and add the cold butter. Swirl the butter quickly and let it emulsify with the sauce. (If the sauce is too hot and the butter not cold enough, the butter will melt and separate.) Serve immediately—it cannot be reheated. Using butter in this fashion will also mellow out a sauce that is too acidic.


Oyster and shiitake mushrooms have tough stems. The stem of the shiitake will pop off, but oyster mushroom stems need to be cut off. The base or stems of the mitake, cremini and portobellos are tender enough to be eaten. Mushrooms need to be sautéed on high heat, or they will ooze liquid and won’t brown.

Reducing sauce for depth of flavor

Here’s a trick for getting more flavor from your sauce: swirl and coat the sides of the pan with the sauce while reducing, which exposes the sauce to high heat. The high heat browns the sugars and proteins in foods. So the more swirling, the more browning. To get a darker and more flavorful sauce, reduce the sauce to a glaze to caramelize the sugars and proteins. Then add additional stock or water for the amount of sauce you want.

Cutting Salmon Escalopes

Purchase the tail-end of the salmon. With a sharp knife slice 3/8-inch thick pieces off at a sharp angle toward the tail.