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Salmon & red wine sauce

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About 10 years ago I had salmon & red wine sauce at The Jeffersonian, a restaurant somewhere on Philly's Main Line. It was quite possibly the most delicious meal I've ever had. I asked the chef how he made the wine sauce, and all I grasped at the time was that it took all day, several boil-down reductions, a whole bottle of wine, which resulted in 3 tablespoons of sauce.

Needless to say, I have never even come close to duplicating the recipe.

However, a sibling has decided no more meat for him. So, I've decided to give this another shot. In addition to my sauce never thickening, never being syrupy, my salmon is always, well, quite awful. No matter how I cook it. So I have 2 questions:

1) Can someone provide guidance, or perhaps a book, on how to cook salmon; and
2) Can someone provide insight in making a red wine/pinot/port syrupy sauce?

Many thanks.

PS - Is there a way to subscribe to this thread, moderators? This board moves so fast, I lose myself.

EDIT: Moderators, I got your message! Thank you.

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  1. There are several varieties of Salmon and each has it's own characteristics for how it responds when cooked. The cut of the fish (e.g. filets vs steaks) also makes a difference in how it is best cooked. Generally speaking, you have a choice of grilling, broiling, baking, steaming, frying or dry roasting. Just be careful not to overcook it.
    Professional chefs use a variety of methods for thickening sauces. One of the more commons processes involves the use of Buerre Manie, which is simply a paste made of butter and flour that is added to the sauce near the point of finishing and cooked only long enough to thicken the sauce and cook the flour. The wine is added to the sauce and reduced well before the thickening agent comes into play.
    Arrowroot is also used as a thickening agent, sometimes mixed with butter in a manner similar to the Buerre Manie technique. It thickens more quickly and doesn't have the uncooked flour taste if you happen to overlook how long it's been cooking.

    Another popular method used by professional chefs is preparing a Liaison made from egg yolks and some heavy cream. This sauce is beautifully smooth (I love to use it) but it's finicky and easily ruined. If the eggs aren't handled perfectly you can end up with scrambled eggs in heavy cream.

    1. We don't buy many cookbooks because so much is available online. We easily made an exception for 'Fish Without a Doubt,' by Rick Moonen & Roy Finamore. This book will help get you on the path to cooking fish right. We live in a fairly small town & the library had a copy so we looked at it before buying. If you poke around these boards you'll find the book referenced fairly often.

      As for sauce recipes. One word: Google.


      2 Replies
      1. re: FishTales

        i have one word to say about this book..."buy it"

        1. re: FishTales

          I requested this book and James Peterson's book on Sauces. Thank you.

        2. For 'subscribing,' all you need to do it go to your profile page. Click on 'view profile' at left hand top of page, on the red CHOW banner, next to your screen name/logout. That'll bring you to all the threads you've responded to. I normally check my profile page first thing every day, then move onto the HC board.

          For your sauce, I think an arrowroot thickener added at the end of reduction would be the best bet, as your sauce will retain it's color and clarity. Any of the other thickening methods todao mentioned are fine and very workable. You may find you don't need to thicken the sauce at all.

          Here's a recipe to give you a basic idea for an simple version of this classic dish. My feeling is that the chef at your restaurant was probably exaggerating just a bit with the "all day, several boil down reductions," etc. Whole bottle of wine, sure, 3 tablespoons of sauce, yes, but not all day. The syrupy effect comes from your choice of wine for the sauce and the glycerin content thereof:


          Books, if you're going to do a lot of salmon cooking:


          There are more dedicated salmon cookbooks available, but I think these two are the best. They may be available at your local library. You may want to look into buying a general seafood cookbook.

          For the type of sauce you want to serve with the salmon, sautéing the fillet is the best method, followed by gentle poaching. You can find other red wine sauce making techniques and flavorings online as well.

          8 Replies
          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Thank you--I requested the James Peterson book from the library.

            I don't know why my salmon always comes out terrible. :(

            1. re: E_M

              Terrible in what sense? What variety/cut of salmon do you normally cook, and what cooking method do you usually use/attempt?

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                I get ... a center cut. I don't know from where it comes, the kid working behind the fish counter isn't that knowledgeable. (I think it's time to try another fish market. This one usually works in the attached liquor store.) Then I remove the skin and slice it into equal parts. I have pan-fried it, poached it, sauteed it, and once in the oven.

                It's just...yucky.

                1. re: E_M

                  Mm, ok, do get a better, or at least more informed, fish monger. There are many varietes of salmon on the market, depending on where you live, some for what you want, and other types for other methods of preparation.

                  It looks like you're getting some seafood reading material, a good move, and go from there. Making the sauce is probably going to be the easier part of the recreating your dish. A nice red wine butter sauce is what you are looking for, I believe. I do like klunco's aveceric link recipe downthread, perfect sauce for salmon, and a gentle cooking method, but it might not be what you had. Good luck and keep us informed!

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    Is there an easy way to try the recipe out on myself before I attempt it for other people? Like, just dividing the recipes by 4 to get a serving for 1? Or will the sauce not come out right?

                    1. re: E_M

                      I have to say it's impossible for me to cook for under four. That said, butter sauces are rather difficult to make for one serving, you get down to miniscule teaspoon proportions, but you might go with halving the recipe, that's 3 oz total, not that much sauce, and you may find it so delicious that you'll slurp it all up.

                      Btw, butter sauces don't keep, unless you have a warm kitchen, but they're not very stable in general and you cannot refrigerate leftovers and reheat, just doesn't work. Just an FYI.

                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                        What is the best way to phrase this. Some of my cooking-for-4 new recipes have turned out to be expensive disasters. The wine, the lamb, etc. Are there smaller steps I can take or do I need to just suck it up? (The sauce, literally, haha.)

                        1. re: E_M

                          Assuming we're talking about the Eric Ripert sauce recipe, you can reduce the entire amount fo wine/acid, and just use what you need for 1-2 portions. The rest of the reduction can be frozen. It's not quicker to reduce a larger amount of liquid, but easier and more controllable; sometmes reducing a small amount of liquid can get away from you and you'll end up with a burnt glaze on the bottom of your sauce pan.

          2. Salmon braised in pinot noir isn't exactly what you're looking for...but it's one of my favorite ways with salmon in the winter. We make it for ourselves frequently but I've also made it for several dinner parties with very positive feedback. I use the recipe in Molly Stevens All About Braising but this adapted version is essentially the same: http://projects.washingtonpost.com/re...

            I've made this without the bacon and still found it quite delicious

            1. Syrupy doesn't sound to me like a thickened sauce-- it sounds like a simple reduction. If the sugars in the wine don't seem to be enough (the sauce is still thin after cooking down to 3 tbsp) it may be that something else sugary was added. Did the sauce in the restaurant taste sweet?

              1. Watched this on Hulu last night and looked up the recipe. I haven't tried it yet but it looks pretty good and it seems to be what you're looking for.


                1. Sorry I don't have any suggestions about the sauce- but I have a method for cooking salmon that usually comes out really well (in fact, I think I discovered it here on CH).

                  I use a center cut filet, big enough for two people, but not cut into two portions. Bake in a low (225 degree) oven for about 30-40 minutes, depending on how thick the cut is and how rare you like it. I like my salmon just medium rare, so the fish is warmed through and not raw. I find the best way to judge doneness for me is to look at, for lack of a better term- the white goo that bakes out of the fish as it cooks. I take the fish out just about a minute or two after the white (not sure if it's the fat?) starts coming to the surface, tent with foil so it finishes cooking a bit, and voila. Sometimes I marinate the fish in a little soy sauce and chili sauce, but for your purposes I'd leave it bare and just plate with the sauce. Good luck!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mjhals

                    The white goo is coagulated protein. Won't hurt cha!

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Good to know! The look is a bit off-putting, but I have no problem with the flavor. And for me it's a good measure of when my fish is done.

                  2. I made salmon this way last week:

                    Preheat oven to 375.

                    In a 10 x 15 roasting pan, toss some cut-up red potatoes, carrots, a sweet yellow onion, 4 whole cloves of garlic, S & P, and some olive oil. Roast them for ~35 minutes (to the point where they need another 7-10 minutes to finish). ***

                    Take the roaster out of the oven, and move the veg to the four sides of the pan. Remove the garlic if it's too brown.

                    Sprinkle a little more olive oil in the center of the pan, and when it's hot, put the center cut salmon (1#) in the center. Sprinkle salmon w/S & P. Cook another 7-10 minutes, depending on how well done you like your salmon.

                    I let it sit for 5-10 minutes before I eat. It's good with lemon wedges or a dill vinaigrette. It's more than enough for one serving, but I love cold salmon, so I make a pound each time.

                    *** It's important to use enough oil that the veg (especially potatoes) don't stick to the pan. You can give them a stir after 10-15 minutes.

                    1. E-M, I am still not clear as to what it is that you don't like about the way your salmon tastes after it has been cooked. Is there an unpleasant fishy flavor? Is it too dry? Does it seem soft, red, and sushi-like? What?

                      The above having been said, let me address some possible problems. If the salmon tastes unpleasantly fishy, scrape off the gray stuff that accumulates under the skin before eating. (I read somewhere that this stuff is normal and does not indicate that the fish was beginning to spoil.) If it still tastes fishy, you probably are buying old salmon that is going over the edge. From what you have described, whatever the situation is, a new fishmonger seems in order.

                      If the salmon seems too dry, you may have overcooked it in the oven, or whatever.

                      I think that the fool-proof method for cooking salmon is to buy a fillet (not a center cut wedge), use a large bamboo steamer, and steam whatever portion of the fillet will fit, skin side down. Steam it with the bamboo lid securely in place on the steamer for about twelve minutes. Take the steamer off the boiling water and cut into the salmon to make sure it is as cooked as you would like. Return it to the steamer if you think it needs more cooking.

                      I call this a "fool-proof" method because the steaming makes it almost impossible to dry out the salmon. You can overcook it horribly and it still comes out fine. (I once forgot that I had left the salmon steaming and came back about 25 minutes later and it still tasted fine.) Similarly, if you undercook it, it still tastes great and is, by the way, the way half the people in the United States want their salmon now! No matter what you do, with steaming, the fish will come out moist and flavorful.

                      Generally, after I steam the fish, I remove the skin (which was cooked on the bottom of the steamer and often sticks to it), because the skin is chewy and somewhat gelatinous. It peels away very easily.

                      As for sauces, I agree that Peterson's book is terrific, as is Julia Child, and a book called "The Saucier's Apprentice." (I love that title!) Good luck!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: gfr1111

                        The last time I made it in the oven--a low heat as MHJals uses--it tasted like wet sawdust.

                        1. re: E_M

                          What kind of salmon are you using?

                          Ages ago I made a lovely Kamman recipe for a pinot noir sauce for salmon - I'll go look it up - it might also have had blackberries in it.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Ooh, that sounds delicious. Now E_M has to get better quality salmon and a cooking technique down. Sounds like the OP had farmed salmon, without much flavor.

                        2. re: gfr1111

                          >If the salmon tastes unpleasantly fishy, scrape off the gray stuff that accumulates under the skin >before eating. (I read somewhere that this stuff is normal and does not indicate >that the fish was >beginning to spoil.)

                          Yes that's normal, not at all a sign of spoilage. I remove it before grilling/cooking too but I don't scrape. There's less of it toward the outside of the fish, then more toward the center. I take a sharp knife & simply cut it away, following the 'valley' as it deepens. Doubt I've wasted more than a gram of fish per serving.

                          & I'll add this, it is quite possible to cook good salmon at home, & really not that hard. Patience, stay with it... quite worth the effort. You can then have food you really enjoy at home with your own wine, barefoot if you like, your cats walking around the house, your own music, no one's kids screaming away...


                        3. Thank you everyone for your input. I have requested several volumes from my local library and will visit some other fishmongers this weekend. I believe I can make myself a single serving of salmon, and a smaller portion of sauce as a trial run. I will keep you updated. Well, not as though you care, but because I may need additional guidance. ;)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: E_M

                            But we do care, and want you to have sucess with this.