[94] Salmon with Beurre Rouge

How to Cook Everything, Revised Edition by Mark Bittman

This recipe seems simple enough. It seems like it would be a great recipe for a novice cook who wants to impress a date, though it concedes that the cook will have to take a bit to get it right.

I think it lies. I think it’s tricky and complicated. I think a novice cook would do well to test this one on a friend before pulling it out on a date.

Either that, or I just cannot manage fish and sauces yet. Either one.

It was a fairly tasty meal, but the fish ended up a bit mangled and the sauce was nowhere near what the book said it should be like. I suspect it was close in taste, but not texture. Texture is always what I struggle with in sauces.

Sauces might be my cooking nemesis. Which is unfortunate, because they are delicious and my taste buds think I should make them often. My taste buds always win, and I attempt a new one regularly. Always to have it come out runny. I hate runny sauces.

Still, if you have better luck with sauces, try this recipe. It was truly delicious, for all that the sauce was runny. And if you can get it nice and thick, it will look just beautiful on the plate. Assuming you’re also better at not mangling fish than I am.h2. Ingredients

2 tbsp minced shallot
2 c fruit, not-too-tannic wine

2 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar

~1 1/2 lbs salmon fillets

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

8 tbsp cold butter, cut into 6 or 8 pieces

Chopped fresh parsley or chervil for garnish (Optional)

h2. Instructions

Combine the shallot, wine & vinegar in a small saucepan over high heat. Cook until reduced to 1/4 c (~10 min), then turn the heat as low as possible.

Meanwhile, put a medium skillet over medium heat, sprinkle the salmon with salt & pepper and put it in the skillet skin side up. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until nicely browned (~5 min), then turn.

When the red wine mixture is reduced to about 1/4 c and is over low heat, add the butter a piece at a time. Stir after every addition until the butter is fully incorporated. When all the butter has been added, taste and adjust the seasoning.

When the salmon is done to your liking, ~3 – 5 min after being turned (judge by using a sharp, thin knife to peek inside the thickest part), transfer to a platter or serving plates. Spoon the sauce over the fish, garnish, and serve.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

Bittman promises in the note above this recipe that cooks will get this sauce right on their first try. I bet most people even do. I’m sad to note, though, that I did not. My poor sauce making skills strike again.

This is partially due, I think, to my scaling this recipe down quite a bit. He says this makes 4 servings, which works out to about a 6 oz portion of salmon per person. Bill and I are trying pretty hard to stick to the nutritional guidelines of 4 oz of meat per person, no matter what kind of meat. This means that I bought a pile of salmon for the freezer in half-pound chunks. While I regularly consider “allowing” us more meat when it’s fish, a half-pound of fish per person sounds like way too much. So, for now, we each eat a quarter-pound of fish.

Scaling down the sauce was thus a matter of dividing in three and going from there. It was a hassle and I ended up with a weird amount of leftover shallot. I found a use for it, but it was a bit of a pain. As for cooking the sauce, it only got more frustrating. The salmon is going to cook in about the same amount of time as he recommends, no matter how much of it there is. Unfortunately, I figured the sauce would take less time than he said to reduce by the same proportional amount. I seem to have been wrong (though I’m not sure why), and I ended up with my least favorite kind of sauce: a very runny one. Boo! It tasted quite good, even with a more tannic and less fruity wine, but I wanted the near-glaze he describes.

And that was just the sauce! Cooking the fish was also a pain in my patukis. If you glance at the ingredients list again, you’ll notice that the only added fat for this recipe is the butter you stir into the sauce. Keeping the fish from sticking to your pan? That’s totally up to your skills alone. I did not have the skills, as the photo shows.

Here’s the issue: The recipe seems to call for the fish to be added to a fairly cold pan. I usually cook fish in a blazing hot pan. So, maybe I overheated the pan before adding the fish. Maybe I underheated the pan! I actually am not at all sure. I think that if I make this recipe again, I’ll assume the pan needed to be heated more, and heat it until the fish will sizzle upon hitting the pan. That should make a nice crust on the salmon, and then allow me to flip it when it loosens naturally, like chicken and beef do when being sauteed. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go the other direction, and put my fish in a fairly cold pan. After that, I will give up.

Just for the record, tweeting Mr. Bittman and asking for a pan temperature did not get me anywhere. So it’s all experimentation from here. Good thing “I’m okay with some experimenting.”:http://metacookbook.com/archives/161-91-Cranberry-Crunch-Cookies.html

h3. Consumption

It helps that salmon is by far my favorite fish, and I love it in all states from raw to well-done. I also like sauces and wine.

The trickiness of this recipe made it a bit frustrating to eat, but it was delicious all the same. The sauce was really quite good, even on orzo-spinach salad and sweet potatoes…

Okay, seriously, this is one to tackle again. It might just wait, though, until Bill & I have two guests who like salmon, so I can try the full recipe. It might be easier at that point to reduce and go through the whole shebang. I think everyone will like the sauce, especially if it’s thicker, because it’s full of wine and richness and just a hint of tang. It did complement the salmon quite well.

So, try it, and tell me what you think. Give me your tips on cooking salmon. Or making sauces. Or really, anything. This one stumped me.

2 thoughts on “[94] Salmon with Beurre Rouge

  1. Interesting. I’d have picked beurre blanc for fish.

    For the sauce, I’d say one of two things happened. Either your wine didn’t reduce enough, or it overheated while adding butter. Beurre rouge and beurre blanc are butter sauces, which are emulsions. You don’t have a lot of proteins in there to help stabilize things, and over 136F they’ll start to coagulate and clump together and the sauce will break (got that from Corriher). So cold butter is extremely important, as is a barely warm reduction. You want each chunk of butter to almost but not quite fully disappear before adding the next. If you have an electric stove, you’ll probably do better whisking off the heat.

    For the salmon itself, I think pan choice and temperature is critical, as is just a touch of oil before the fish goes in. I have my nice, heavy-bottomed 12″ skillet to work with. Non-stick might be okay too. Full preheat takes about 3 minutes on gas, longer on electric, and I would have gone with the higher temperature. Not full blast, but enough that a teaspoon of canola would shimmer (but not smoke!) when added.

    Addendum: Scaling down the sauce may have been what caused it to be thin. It’s sometimes hard to get consistent results when you do that. FWIW, two cups of wine should reduce down to less than 1/4 cup; three tablespoons would be about the point the French call au sec.

    • Hi Alex!

      As for the salmon, I did wonder about the lack of oil in the recipe, but figured I’d follow it as written. I’m likely to try this recipe again, and I’ll decide then about if I’m just going to try to heat the pan quite a bit more, or do that and add oil too.

      I appreciate your comments on the sauce. It’s something I’ve never made before, so I certainly don’t have a lot of ideas myself.

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