My Baby Got Sauce -or – The Thrill Of The Grill -or What Do Grilled Salmon And The Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay Have In Common?

The answer to the last question in the title of this post is “The sauce I made my missus last night.”

Here’s what I made:

First off, a beautiful piece of wild caught Alaskan salmon, skin removed.

Then garlic. I use garlic for EVERYTHING I cook. Olive Oil as well. I’m not interested in where the cuisine originates, or whether garlic is part of the tradition, meaning I don’t care whether it’s Thai, Greek, Southwestern, Traditional Pub English, Indian, Tex-Mex, Japanese, or Ethiopian; if I’m cooking it, it’s going to have garlic and olive oil. So, I dice up two cloves of garlic, not particularly finely, while heating up a skillet glazed with olive oil. After the garlic is diced, and before the skillet and oil are ready, I lick some garlic resonance off my fingers, and allow a rather large slirrup of ’07 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay to tumble water-slide-style down my decidedly dry throat. When the oil is ready, in with the garlic. And because I used my hands to pop the garlic in? More resonance. And more ’07. (From here on out, the wine will be referred to as “the ’07,” because it’s too much typing otherwise!)

When the garlic has softened, but not yet browned, it comes out with the oil, and into a large measuring cup. Next, traditionally spicy Dijon mustard. A big dollop. Now, I know this is probably sacrilegious (I donormally believe that one has to be careful having wine with vinegar-based dishes and sauces), but I LOVE good spicy mustard and white wine together. So, since I have the mustard open, I spread some on a flax-seed & honey wheat cracker, take a big bite and … Yes. More ’07. Ah, I love this combination! The intensity of the mustard somehow subjugates some of both the oak and fruit notes, and accordingly allows for all the yeast, mineral, and citrus components to come front & center. Delicious. But back to the sauce. Into the oil, garlic, and mustard goes dry vermouth next. Just a splash. And then some of the ’07. Ok, maybe a little bit more than some. One for the sauce, one for the chef. I whip the sauce vigorously with a fork until it starts to become every-so-slightly creamy in texture, an emulsification if you will.

Back to the cutting board then, for some organic grape tomatoes. About 10 or so, quartered into small pieces. These go into the sauce next, then some capers. Ummmm, capers. Delicious, delightful, compressed little balls of salt magic. Wondrous, wondrous capers. I toast the caper! With the ’07 … Than a little gentle stirring, enough to integrate the new components, but not so much that their structural integrity is damaged. Now for the herbs; first, a heaping amount of dried organic tarragon, and then a couple liberal pinches of herbed salt; herbs de provence specifically. Oops, a little bit of salt stuck to my fingers! Taste … sip. After testing the sauce, Amy decides it needs slightly more mustard. A second dollop. And another flax cracker for me!

With the sauce now ready, I lay the salmon out in a shallow pie dish, and pour the sauce over it. I flip the fish a couple times to get it fully covered, and then let it rest there, being infused with magic-ness. On goes the panini griller, mid-low temperature. When it’s ready, I hold the salmon up, letting the sauce run off and back into the dish. The salmon goes onto the grill, and the top goes down. Halfway through I turn the fish, so as to get that archetypal cross-hatch of seared mustard/tarragon/vermouth/’07 goodness.

It’s ready in just a few minutes; you have to watch salmon on the griller. If you wait even a second too long, the fish gets tough in texture. Amy is my barometer at this point, with a disclaimer; if she thinks it has another minute or two, it’s usually actually ready! Out comes the salmon, and on to a plate. Then I pour the sauce over. I’m on the edge of spiritual gourmand ecstasy, plunged to my metaphorical knees in subjugation to the life-giving aromas filling the room; a mendicant at the altar of culinary holiness; a supplicant before the eternal odors of life, love, and happiness; humble parishioner at the church of the esculent.

I fill Amy’s glass with the ’07, marvel at the glistening limpidty as it catches the fading rays of the Capitola sun,  and think briefly to myself, “I love to feed my woman.” We toast.

Categories: Chardonnay, Food & Wine Pairing, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine Tales

2 replies

  1. I cook a LOT of classical Mexican food like dried chile marinades or pastes, as well as several styles of mole – in all of which, roasted garlic is featured prominently. Some of my recipes call for as many as a 18 cloves of roasted garlic in a good-sized batch. Grilled or roasted salmon goes especially well in an ancho chile paste that I make frequently.

    So, if your tastes run to Mexican, let me give you another method for roasting garlic that yields a totally different flavor than does garlic carmelized in olive oil. Simply split apart the bulb, but do not peel. Place the cloves on a hot dry skillet and turn a few times until nicely blackened and soft. Takes about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the clove. Allow to cool, then peel and chop.

    This method of roasting garlic is courtesy of the cookbooks of Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill/Topolobampo in Chicago, Ill. Topolobampo, incidently, was where I had my introduction to Ridge wines. The sommelier, Jill Gubesch, recommeded a Lytton Springs Zinfandel with a lobster and filet mignon dinner. Even though high alcohol wines usually add to the “burn” of spicy food, the Lytton Springs Zinfandel with its voluptuous fruit soothed the palate in just the right fashion.

    • Oh wow, now I’m REALLY hungry! Thanks for the great info Robert!

      I actually spent a year in Chicago, and I am a huge fan of “The Bayless Way,” though I never actually made it to his establishment …

      Anyhow, I am SO cooking garlic this way as soon as possible!

      In the meantime, I’ll just console myself by eating, with a spoon, this entire jar of frontera chipotle salsa … ok, maybe I’ll have some blue corn chips … and maybe a nice glass of some “voluptuous” zin … maybe then I’ll be ok …

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