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8 & $20 Recipe: Lemon-Butter Grilled Salmon and Pinot Noir

Tweaking a classic combo for a lighter style of wine

Jennifer Fiedler
Posted: June 11, 2013

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

As contemporary classic wine pairings go, you can’t get much more textbook than Pinot Noir and grilled salmon, one of the tried-and-true red-with-fish combos. When I found a bottle of Erath Pinot Noir Oregon 2010 at my local store for $17, it seemed like a good time to revisit the concept.

The one hitch: Pinot Noir encompasses a range of styles, from bright and fresh to rich and chewy. Although the 2010 Oregon vintage was notably ripe, it's clear from the tasting note for this bottling—which begins, “Light and delicately tangy”—that this wine lands on the more delicate end of the spectrum. The lighter wine seemed to rule out any especially bold sauces and marinades in favor of a more subtle touch.

Thinking about how to approach a recipe that complemented this bottling, I shied away from matching the “pretty red berry” and “tea leaf aromas” mentioned in the tasting note with something like a raspberry coulis or Darjeeling infusion—way too fussy. This is a weeknight summertime recipe, after all.

First, for inspiration, I tried the straightforward salt-to-taste and throw-it-on-the-grill method. I have to admit: It was totally great. If you’re in a rush or don’t feel like getting elaborate with dinner, you can stop right there and feel confident you’ve found a good match. The charred skin on the fish intensified the savory notes in the wine and highlighted the fruit flavors. It was an all-around delight.

In the second trial, I took a different tack, preparing a simple glaze of honey and soy sauce. I was hoping that, in the magic math of wine pairings, putting the savory-sweet addition up against the wine's fruit flavors would bubble up to something greater than the sum of its parts. It was good, with the umami notes of the soy sauce calling to the earthy elements of the wine, but not perfect.

Reading the tasting note again, I returned to the “delicately tangy” descriptor and thought that citrus might make a good accompaniment. A quick read of the winery's website said the wine had seen some new oak, a good indication that butter could bridge the flavors of the drink and food. A pre-grill brush of lemon-butter sauce—a sort of liquid compound butter—did just that.

The result was a great match. The acidic character of the Pinot was balanced by the citrus in the food, and the charred butter added some nutty notes that resonated with the wine, lending it a touch more body.

With the grill already on, it’s an ideal time to roast some green vegetables. These often pose a problem with red wines when raw or steamed, but the char from the grill provides some leeway. I grilled a bunch of kale and a leek, and then mixed them up in a potato salad for a simple warm side dish.

Lemon-Butter Grilled Salmon and Charred Kale Potato Salad


Pair with a lighter Oregon Pinot Noir such as Erath Pinot Noir Oregon 2010 (87 points, $19)


Total time: 30 minutes

Approximate food cost: $38

  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 4 six-ounce salmon filets
  • 8 medium-sized red potatoes, diced
  • 1 leek, split in half lengthwise, dark green parts removed
  • 1 small bunch lacinanto kale
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and butter. Brush the sauce over the salmon filets and reserve.

2. Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to a boil. Add the diced potatoes and cook until tender, around 20 minutes. Strain and reserve.

3. Brush the halved leeks with cooking oil, season with salt, place on the grill and cook until charred. Remove, let cool, and then slice thinly and add to the potatoes.

4. Brush the kale leaves with oil, then place in a single layer on the grill and cook until charred, flipping once, around 3 to 4 minutes. Remove, let cool, then chop and add to the potatoes. Toss with olive oil, red wine vinegar and season with salt to taste. Reserve.

5. Rub the grill tray with cooking oil. Season the salmon filets with salt. Arrange the filets on the grill, skin-side down, and cook until done, turning once, around 6 minutes a side. Brush with additional butter sauce in the last 30 seconds. Remove from the grill and serve immediately with the potato salad. Serves 4

Charles Parker
Denton, TX —  June 20, 2013 10:26am ET
The recipe looks wonderful, but I'd love to see a larger photo of the veggies and potato salad. The term "charred" may have a different definition in California than it does in Texas! Thanks.

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