Salmon with Chenin Blanc

This rich, tropical spring dish from chef Mina Newman is just right with a minerally, juicy white wine

Salmon with Chenin Blanc
In preparing this flavorful meal, a heady marinade of miso paste, mango, soy sauce and sake does much of the work for you. (Lucy Schaeffer)
From the Mar 31, 2020, issue

Raised in New York by an American Jewish father and a Peruvian mother, chef Mina Newman grew up on the foods of Peru. "I think the most we got of our Jewish heritage was having bagels and lox on Sunday," she quips. Her mother cooked staples like arroz con pollo, ceviche and papa a la huancaína, potatoes topped with spiced cream sauce.

But she often incorporated Japanese elements too. "We always had soy sauce at home; we always had ginger," Newman recalls. Her mother would stir Peruvian seaweed into water to create a sort of dashi, the Japanese broth base, adding it to her ceviche for depth.

Only later did Newman learn there was a name for this pidgin cuisine: Nikkei. A Japanese diaspora to Peru that began in 1899 led to Japanese immigrants preparing Peruvian foods using their native techniques. "Their cuisines have a lot of similarities," Newman notes. "High fish, high rice, a lot of starch." Ceviche as we know it is the most visible emblem of Nikkei influence: Generations of Peruvians marinated raw fish overnight until Japanese transplants taught them to treat it more delicately, tossing it with citrus just before serving.

Newman takes exception whenever the cuisine is labeled "fusion," evoking the faddish Asian-with-a-twist dining of the aughts. Instead, she compares it to the New York bagel, believed to have resulted from 19th-century Polish émigrés making an old-country staple using the traditional method—boiling—but in New York's mineral-rich, gluten-strengthening water. "Now we consider that just a native New Yorker food," she says.

Sen Sakana, a winner of  Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence, became New York's first Nikkei restaurant when it opened in 2017. Newman acknowledges that earlier places had included certain Nikkei elements; for instance, Nobu's thin slices of raw fish with rocoto chile, onions and yuzu, a variation of its signature "new-style sashimi," was tiradito by another name. But Sen Sakana was the first in the city to wave the flag. Today, it offers reimagined Nikkei dishes like the salmon shown here, served with asparagus, mango miso puree and lightly pickled mangoes.

Wine director Zachary Gross opts for a dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley to stand up to the fatty, sweet fish, minerally miso and luscious mango. With "tons of minerality, peach, green apple, crushed stone and herbs," the Château Yvonne Saumur White 2015 makes a fine balance with the rich, tropical dish.

Portrait of chef Mina Newman
Mina Newman helms Sen Sakana, New York’s first self-professed Nikkei restaurant. (Evan Sung)

Chef’s Notes

Just when you thought salmon had gotten boring, this head-turning recipe came along to brighten up your week. Read on for Newman’s tips on how to bring this lively number into tune with your particular preferences.

  • Ask your fishmonger about salmon belly. Though this recipe works beautifully with the ubiquitous salmon fillet, Newman says you can elevate your game by instead buying salmon belly, which is richer and more tender than fillet. If your fishmonger sells the belly, go for it. If not, Newman suggests asking for fillets cut from as close to the belly as possible. “That’s really delicious, really fatty; you almost can’t overcook it, so it’s perfect for the home cook,” she says.

  • Make this today, but bookmark the page for stone fruit season too. Newman loves the versatility of the marinade, which can support plenty of other fruits besides mango. “You need something creamy and dense-textured,” she advises. Apples and pear will be too grainy, but as the weather continues to warm, peaches and nectarines will both make for good substitutes. The tropical fruit cherimoya, often sold in the United States as custard apple, is also great if you can find it, with a smooth texture and a unique flavor profile that calls to mind pineapple, mango and strawberry. Newman does warn that the puree of sweeter fruits, like peaches, will change the flavor balance of the marinade, so if you’re using one of those, start off with less than the stated 2/3 cup and then add more to taste. Speaking of which …

  • Taste as you go. The marinade should taste strong but good; this recipe is a solid guide, but exact proportions are really up to you. “Don’t get so hung up on measuring everything so perfectly,” Newman counsels. “You can eyeball it.” If it’s too sweet or too sour, adjust accordingly. She suggests going ahead and combining the full 1/2 cup each of miso paste and mirin and the 2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus the 2/3 cup mango puree (or a bit less if it’s a sweeter fruit), then adding the sake in smaller increments in order to control the degree of strength. After that point, you can add more of anything to taste.

  • The marinade does much of the work for you. Once the marinade is tasting good and you have introduced it to the fish, it will infuse the salmon flesh with flavor and moisture, guarding against overcooking. “On the outside, [the fish] actually develops a little bit of a skin” when you pull it from the marinade, Newman explains, helping to keep the interior tender.

  • Go easy when cooking the salmon fillets. Salmon is one of those proteins that can feel all too easy to over- or undercook. “Visually, you never want to see the albumen from the salmon, the white stuff,” which tells you the fish has gone too far, she says. “Texturally, it should still feel soft and spongy if you want it to be medium-rare.” To accomplish this, she suggests cooking it on medium heat, which will make for a relatively slow process that’s less likely to get away from you.

  • Or, try this one weird trick. If you like your fish at medium or medium-well doneness, Newman has a tip: Once it’s at that spongy medium-rare stage, cover the pan and turn off the heat, then leave it on the burner for about 7 minutes. This should take the fish to a firmer state of doneness without overdoing it. “You’re containing the residual heat that’s inside, and then just leave it there until you’re ready to serve,” she says. “And it’s good too: You also want it to rest. Similar to meat, you don’t want to cut right into it.” If you’re happy with the doneness you achieve by following the recipe without employing the covering-the-pan move, she suggests letting the fish rest off the heat for 5 minutes—just long enough to take off your apron, pour some wine and call everyone to the table.


    Pairing Tip: Why Chenin Blanc Works with This Dish

    To pair with this brightly flavored springtime salmon, look for a medium- to full-bodied white that has good acidity and combines fruitiness and minerality with touches of herb, such as a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley or South Africa’s Stellenbosch region.

    Chef's Pick: Château Yvonne Saumur White 2015 (92 points, $45)
    Wine Spectator Picks: Loïc Mahé Savennières Sables & Schistes 2016 (93, $40)
    Stellenbosch Vineyards Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch Bushvine 2018 (88, $18)


    Mango Miso Salmon with Asparagus and Quick-Pickled Mango

    Recipe courtesy of chef Mina Newman and tested by Wine Spectator’s Julie Harans.

    Ingredients

    • 3 mangoes, peeled and pitted (divided use)
    • 1/2 cup white miso paste
    • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons mirin (divided use)
    • 3/4 cup cooking sake (divided use)
    • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
    • Four 6- to 7-ounce salmon fillets (or pieces of salmon belly), skin on
    • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
    • 2 bunches asparagus, about 60 stalks total, tough ends trimmed
    • Olive oil
    • Salt and pepper
    • 3 tablespoons canola oil
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

    Preparation

    1. Roughly dice 2 mangoes and add them to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth; you should have nearly 1 cup of puree. In a medium bowl, combine miso paste, 1/2 cup mirin, 2/3 cup mango puree, 1/2 cup sake and soy sauce. Whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth. Transfer half the marinade to a separate bowl and add 2 tablespoons mirin and remaining mango puree (you should have about 1/4 cup), stirring until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. Place the salmon in a medium-size glass dish and cover with the remaining marinade. Cover with plastic wrap, transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for 24 hours, turning once.

    2. Transfer the reserved marinade to a medium saucepot and heat over medium, uncovered. Cook until reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover pan and set aside.

    3. Dice remaining mango. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sake, rice wine vinegar and 1/2 cup mirin, stirring to combine. Stir in the diced mango. Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain, discarding liquid.

    4. Remove salmon from refrigerator and blot excess marinade. Place fish in a clean dish until ready to cook.

    5. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper to lightly coat the stalks and place on a foil-lined sheet pan large enough to fit them all in a single layer. Transfer to the oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly crispy. Remove and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

    6. Place a cold nonstick pan on medium heat, then immediately add the canola oil and butter. As soon as the butter has melted, add the fish. Cook, skin-side down, until skin is lightly browned and easily releases from the pan, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip fillets and cook on flesh side, 3 minutes more, until lightly browned and cooked through. If all four fillets do not fit comfortably in the pan, cook two at a time, then transfer to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while you cook the other two.

    7. While the salmon is cooking, reheat the saucepot of reserved sauce over low.

    8. Evenly distribute the asparagus among four dinner plates. Place a salmon fillet on each plate, top with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the sauce and garnish with the diced, quick-pickled mango. Serves 4.

Recipes Cooking Pairings Seafood Chenin Blanc

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