How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Really Red Fish

One advantage of my new rowing habit is that it has given us better access to fresh seafood. We remain fans of Fresh Catch, whose Mansfield store is a convenient source for both fresh seafood and quality meats. Being in the most active fishing harbor in the United States on a regular basis, however, means that we can have fish for dinner that may have been swimming under my boat earlier in the day.

Not literally, of course: by the time the boats come into the harbor, the fish are already on board, and only the harbor seals are likely to snack on those swimming under our whaleboats. Still, a geography student who grew up on the edge of the harbor has introduced me to two seafood markets -- Kyler's and Fisherman's -- where the fish practically swim up to the counter.
Sockeye image:

Before I went seafaring this morning, Pam browsed Barton Seaver's Cod and Country -- the bible of sustainable seafood and the inspiration for our Peppery Pairing post back in March. On page 153, she found Warm Poached Salmon in Red Wine Sauce, clearly a good reason to look for salmon when I arrived at Kyler's after my row. For some reason, the wild, red sockeye was the same price as farm-raised pink salmon, so I went with the "fishier" option. On careful reading later, I saw that Seaver recommended pink salmon, but I think he would still have favored the wild over the farm-raised.

The recipe calls for heating the oven, only to 200 degrees, and then heating a thinly sliced shallot and a couple of sprigs of thyme in two cups of red wine. The wine should not be generic "cooking" wine in his view, since the cooking -- especially with the dramatic reduction used in this recipe -- would accentuate any flaws. We considered our home-vinted Pinot Noir, but decided to go all in, and I chose a Beaujolais. Specifically, I got two bottles of 2011 Beaujolais-Villages from Louis Jadot (est. 1869), made in Beaujolais -- bien sur! -- from Gamay grapes.

The two bottles were distributed as follows -- one half of the first bottle for poaching and one half for the chefs (Pam made a wonderful salad that had really been in the field at Colchester hours earlier); the second bottle was served (by and to us) to accompany dinner and a movie. Even in more usual circumstances where we just a more modest amount of wine in the cooking, I recommend cooking with something that can be served proudly with the meal.

Seaver is very specific about the heating and poaching -- the liquid in the pan should be maintained at 170 degrees (which I did) and the salmon should be cooked in 12 minutes (which it was not). I eventually realized that the problem was my lack of attention to one detail. Seaver specifies the use of a saucepan barely big enough to hold the salmon. I had one large piece, cut in two, but only occupying about 2/3 of our large, indispensable cast-iron skillet. I should have used a smaller pan, so that the fish would be entirely in the steaming wine.

Eventually, then, the fish was cooked through, and I transferred it to a warm platter in the oven. Then I turned up the heat on the remaining wine and shallots, until the two cups was reduced to two tablespoons. (I was reminded of a Northern Exposure episode in which Maurice did something similar with beef, at great expense.) Once the wine was reduced, I removed the thyme sprig, and melted two tablespoons of butter into the sauce. I then poured this over the fish and served it with some fresh bread and Pam's wonderful salad and a slightly-chilled second bottle of Beaujolais. Because the tasting notes from Louis Jadot mentioned strawberry as a major part of the flavor profile, I put a few strawbs into the salad, to good effect.

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