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Apr 30, 2014
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WINE WITH…Fish Braised in Red Wine

One of us had a hankering for seafood, the other yearned for a hearty Burgundian-style dish with something braised in red wine--coq au vin, perhaps, or boeuf Bourguignon. What to do? As is often the case (in life as in gastronomy), compromise proved the better part of valor. We resolved our quandary by creating a rich base of red wine and flavorful veggies, with a subtle smoky undertow of pancetta and chipotle adding extra complexity. Then, once the vegetables and sauce had cooked down to an amalgam of intense, rich flavors, we slid a chunk of seared sea bass into the pan and let it braise there, soaking up the savory elements. We served the fish nestled on a pillow of rice, ladling the vegetables and sauce around it.

Since this dish will clearly be adaptable to a variety of seasonal vegetables, we are planning to incorporate it into our regular repertoire. We can well imagine adding a handful of springtime peas to it, for example, while summer corn or diced zucchini might also be tasty additions. Mushrooms would contribute an appealing layer of earthiness any time of year. Potatoes (steamed or mashed), or barley, or pasta might replace the rice.

Fish Braised in Red Wine

Serves 4

1½-2 pounds sea bass or other firm white fish such as halibut
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped pancetta or bacon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried chipotle chili powder or smoked paprika
2-3 carrots, cut in chunks (about 1 inch in size)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut in 1 inch chunks
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 cup red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups cooked rice
2 teaspoons minced parsley

If the piece of fish is too big to fit in a Dutch oven or deep skillet, cut it in half or in four serving size pieces. Blot the fish dry and season with salt and pepper. Put the olive oil in the pan over medium high heat, and when it is hot add the fish. Cook until the fish is nicely browned, then sear it briefly on the other side, being careful not to let it overcook (about 4-6 minutes total, depending on the thickness of the pieces). Transfer the fish to a plate and reserve it. Do not clean the pan.

Add the onion and pancetta to the skillet and cook, over medium high heat, until the onions start to color and the pancetta is beginning to brown and crisp up. Stir in the thyme and chipotle (or paprika); then add the carrots and fennel. Stir in the tomato paste and the diced tomatoes, and add the wine. Let cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has reduced by about half. Add the chicken stock and continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and the sauce has reduced by about another third. Taste for seasoning. Reduce the heat to a simmer and carefully lower the fish onto the vegetables (try to keep the top of the fish from being submerged in the sauce). Continue simmering for another 10 minutes or so, or until the fish is thoroughly cooked and heated through.

To serve, cut the fish into serving size pieces if that hasn’t already been done. Divide the rice between four individual serving bowls, mounding it up in the center of each bowl. Top each mound of rice with a piece of fish; then carefully ladle the sauce and vegetables around it. Sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.

* * *

This dish surprised us. Since it is braised in red wine, we fully expected that reds would constitute the best wine partners. We found, however, that whites could work equally well, so long as the wines in question were fairly fruit-forward. With reds, more robust examples disappointed us, while delicate tasting yet firmly structured examples showed best. Our conclusion? This is an extremely versatile dish, but do avoid extremes. Just as subtle wines won’t perform optimally, tannic, full-bodied ones will seem out of place.


Approx. Price


Fox Run Vineyards, Finger Lakes (New York) Rosé of Lemberger 2013


Tasting of bright citrus (think ruby red grapefruit), this refreshing rosé has just enough heft to satisfy as a partner for this soothing but earthy dish. Be sure to drink it young, preferably this spring or summer.

Grgich Hills, Napa Valley (California) Fumé Blanc “Estate Grown” 2011


We would have guessed that this wine would be too light and delicate to work well with our braised sea bass, but its bright citrus and green apple flavors proved so enticing that it turned out to be one of our favorites. Perhaps due to the warm growing conditions in Napa, the wines has sufficient body, with substantial texture on the palate, to satisfy even the most picky drinker.

Peregrine, Central Otago (New Zealand) Pinot Noir 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


A great match for the dish, the freshness of this New World Pinot provided a delightful contrast to the deeper flavors in the braise, while the wine’s tannins provided structure and balance.

Maison Roche de Bellene, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne Pinot Noir “Vielles Vignes” 2011

(Imported by Loosen Bros. USA)


Earthier both in the bouquet and on the palate than its Kiwi cousin, this Bourgogne also displayed just the right amount of tannin and acidity, so proved a harmonious wine partner for the braised fish. Which style of Pinot Noir you choose is matter of personal preference. Just don’t opt for one that tastes overtly sweet or candied.

Ten Acre, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Chardonnay 2012


A substantial thus fleshy California Chardonnay, with plenty of nutty, buttery flavors to enhance its primary fruit, this wine tastes above all else rich and satisfying. Its lush texture found an obvious counterpart in the smooth, silky sauce from the braise.