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Dec 8, 2015
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WINE WITH…Salmon and Lentils with Shallot & Red Wine Sauce

Lentils are versatile, easy to prepare and delicious. One of the first crops to be domesticated, lentils have nourished humans since Neolithic times. They are especially popular in West Asia and in Mediterranean regions, and according to Italian and Hungarian traditions, eating lentils on New Year’s Eve will bring you good luck in the following year. If you aren’t of Hungarian or Italian descent, you’ll still want to enjoy this savory preparation on New Year’s Eve--or any other occasion for that matter.

Adding the smoky-meaty deliciousness of a ham hock to the lentils, plus a red wine and shallot sauce for the salmon, greatly enriches the basic dish, bringing complexity and making it a supremely wine-friendly meal.

Salmon and Lentils with Shallot & Red Wine Sauce

Serves 4

Use any green or brown lentils such as du Puy, Castellucio, or black Beluga lentils; avoid the red or orange varieties, which risk getting mushy because they cook very rapidly. Although it isn’t necessary to soak raw lentils overnight many cooks believe that doing so improves the legume’s texture and nutritional benefits.

We like to oven-roast the salmon for this dish, but alternatively it could be grilled.

For the Lentils:

1 cup raw lentils
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
1 carrot cut in 2 or 3 pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 ham hock
2 cups red wine
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 jalapeno pepper minced, or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
salt and pepper

For the Salmon:

About 1 ½ pound piece of salmon cut from the thick center filet
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 shallots, finely minced
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup red wine
Snipped chives for garnish (optional)

To cook the lentils, first place them in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse them thoroughly to wash off any dust or dirt. Then put them in a pot along with the onion halves, pieces of carrot, smashed garlic cloves and the ham hock (if it is large cut the hock in half). Cover with water and simmer about 45 minutes, or until the ham hock is fairly tender. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, discard all but one cup of the cooking liquid. Pull or cut the meat off the ham hock and put it in a blender or food processor along with the onion, carrot, garlic and the cup of cooking broth. Pulse the mixture only 2 or 3 times, or until the hock is minced into tiny pieces but is not completely pureed.

Return the ham hock mixture to the cooking pot and add the lentils. Pour in the red wine and add the parsley. Add the jalapeno or cayenne (if using) and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender (check them after 30 minutes as different lentils take different amounts of time to cook). If they are very dry, stir in some chicken broth or water. The lentils may be cooked up to a day or two ahead of time and reheated before serving, adding a little more liquid if needed.

To cook the salmon, preheat the oven to 400°. Line the bottom of a short-sided baking dish with foil or parchment and brush it with a little of the olive oil. Place the salmon in the pan and brush or rub it with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the filet until it is just done (using a very sharp knife cut in the middle of one to check for doneness after 12 minutes).

While the salmon is cooking, melt the butter in a 9-10” skillet and add the shallots. Cook them for about 5 minutes, or until they soften. Pour in the chicken stock and red wine, turn the heat up to high, and boil the mixture, stirring frequently, until it reduces down to a thick, dark sauce, about half a cup total. Cut the salmon into four separate pieces and arrange them on a bed of lentils, spooning the sauce over the top of each filet. Garnish with snipped chives if desired.

* * *

Especially with the sauce, this is clearly a red wine dish. The fish, however, is not especially assertive, so a bold, aggressive red will overwhelm it. The dish’s appeal comes from the subtle interplay of its different elements--not just the salmon and lentils, but also the ham and the thick, luscious sauce. You will want, then, a wine that will enable all those parts to play their roles. At the same time, the dish is quite flavorful. Too delicate a wine will get lost. It’s a tricky balance, but we found five (out of the thirteen we tried) that worked quite well.

Questions or comments? Contact us at Talkofthevine@gmail.com

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Bodegas Centa 21, Ribera del Duero (Spain) Tempranillo “Hito” 2014

(Imported by Moro Brothers

$16

This medium-bodied red offers plenty of fruit and spice flavor. It accents the earthy taste of the lentils without interfering with the fresher taste of the fish.

Chamonix, Franschoek (South Arica) Cabernet Franc 2013

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$34

Reminiscent more of a Chinon than a full-bodied red Bordeaux, this South African Cab Franc exhibits a nuanced elegance that helps make what could be a rustic dish seem suave and sophisticated.

Decoy,

Sonoma County (California) Pinot Noir 2013

$25

Though a tad sugary, this wine has supple red fruit flavors and a silky texture, without excessive heat or sappiness. Pinot Noir is a good accompaniment for this dish, so long as the wine isn’t too sweet or alcoholic.

Bodegas Franco-Españolas,

Rioja (Spain)

“Rioja Bordón Reserva” 2009

(Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits)

$18

Red (cherry) fruit flavors are augmented by spicy American oak in this fairly old-fashioned tasting Rioja. The wine’s real virtue in this particular pairing, though, comes from its texture—smooth, supple, and very seductive.

Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera del Monferrato (Italy) “Maraia” 2013

(Imported by Frederick Wildman)

$18

Always a good value, the 2013 “Maraia” tastes of ripe fruit with echoes of dried herbs and savory spice. The tannins are pliable but present, so the wine has a definite structure and never seems flabby or overly soft. At the same time, it is in no sense overblown. It’s great charm, then, comes from its balance.