Grilled Salmon with Red Wine Balsamic Sauce

This is going to be a quick one. I mean the post and the recipe. The post because I’m my usual pre-vacation frantic mess. And the recipe because it is easy and delicious and takes no time at all. I wish I could say that about preparing for a trip. I hesitate to reveal just how completely freaky I am about traveling, but there is no disguising the panic that sets in during the weeks leading up to a trip. It’s not that I’m afraid of flying so much, (over a vast ocean to another continent), as I am of dying and leaving all the loose ends of my life so completely untied-up. Like all the stuff I still want and need to do, and all the many minutes of joy I want to have with my kids, and my dogs and my cats, and the mornings I want to wake up in my perfectly comfortable bed and cook in my sun-flooded kitchen. So… convinced that I am not simply going on a fantastic and lucky trip to Spain, France and Italy to experience many culinary delights and sights, but actually hurtling toward my doom, I feel as though I need to take care of every possible thing before I go—from updating my will, and writing deep, weepy letters to my children, to scrubbing the toilets and dusting the heretofore neglected blinds, lest my relatives go through my house after my demise and think me a slob.

I’m exhausted from it all. And hungry. So this beautiful sauce, so quick and simple, with it’s incredible balance of acid, fruit and fat is the perfect balm for my tortured soul. And the cooking–bless the cooking–it takes me out of my really scary brain and into my body where all that counts is what is happening in the present, what my hands can do, what my senses can actually experience, what my appetite demands.

I drooled over this recipe when I saw it in the May, 2011 Food and Wine Magazine. It appeared as a side-bar feature to an article about a wine producer named Tarlov who grows pinot noir grapes, and his terroir, and other such details about wine and vineyards and soil that tend to lose me like a good algebra equation. As much as I want to learn it, master it, understand it…I can’t seem to retain it. But cook with it? Drink it? No problem!  The feature had recipes from top chefs who put Pinot Noir to good use and this one, from Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill in NYC captured my attention and got me cooking. Portale pan sears his salmon, but always looking for an excuse to grill in this weather, I figured out how I could take the fish outside (and the accompanying odor) and still get that crispy, crispy skin that comes with a good pan sear. Oh, and I decided to add some gorgeous scallops to the mix because they were calling to me from atop the mountain of crushed ice in my local fish monger’s display case, and because I love, love, love them.

I took my ancient Le Creuset cast iron griddle pan out to my grill and left it there on the blazing heat for about 10 minutes. When I could practically hear the pan scream, it was so hot, I drizzled it with a little high-heat oil and put the salmon on to sear, skin side up. Just two minutes on that side produces a wonderful color, then I flipped it to let the skin get really, really rendered and crispy, and for the salmon to get to medium, about another 6 minutes. When the salmon was almost done, I put the scallops on for their requisite 2 minutes on one side, one minute on the other for a translucent sweetness on the middle and a die-and-go-to-heaven crunch on the surface.

Make the sauce ahead, it takes a good 12-15 minutes to properly reduce. Then, just keep it warming in a double boiler or in a metal or glass bowl perched over a saucepan of simmering water. I served this with another quick no-brainer—spinach wilted in garlic-infused olive oil—and with my first red-wine sauce-slathered bite, I felt my shoulders relax and my senses kick in. Maybe vacation won’t be so bad after all.






Salmon with Red Wine-Balsamic Sauce
adapted from Chef Alfred Portale, Gotham Bar and Grill, Food and Wine, May 2011


Four 6-ounce salmon fillets (note: Portale calls for skinless salmon and pan searing. I kept the skin and crisped it up as shown)
1 tablespoon high-heat oil (grapeseed, canola)
1 small shallot minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 sprigs of thyme
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 cups dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons old unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  • For the sauce:

    1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softenend, about 4 minutes. Do not brown. Add the thyme sprig, cracked black pepper, red wine and balsamic vinegar and boil this mixture over high heat until reduced to about 2-3 tablespoons, about 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream, then whisk in the butter a couple of cubes at a time. Strain sauce through a fine strainer into a metal or glass bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.

  • For the salmon:

    (Note: here is Portales pan searing directions, but these can be applied to my pan-on-the-grill method shown above.)

    1. Season all sides of the salmon with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil (I used canola for the high heat of the pan on the grill…I was going for that hot, hot sear…). Add the salmon to the hot pan, skinned (or skin) side up. Cook over moderately high heat until the surface on the pan is well-browned, 2-4 minutes. Turn the salmon carefully and cook over moderate heat until the fish just opaque throughout, about 3-5 minutes longer depending on thickness. Transfer salmon to plates, spoon the sauce over the fish and garnish with more fresh ground pepper.


2 responses to “Grilled Salmon with Red Wine Balsamic Sauce”

  1. arline rubin says:

    I love the way you write–so personal and FUNNY. I identified with you and your thoughts prior to vacations. I, too, have to clean everything lest people should think I was a slob.
    The recipe sounds so good and I plan to try it the next time I prepare salmon.
    Thanks –and I plan to forward this, as I do many of your emails.

    • says:

      Thanks, Arline! Had a wonderful meal today in Madrid. Took great pics and will post soon! thanks for your support!

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