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8 & $20: Miso-Sesame Salmon with Cucumber Salad

This no-sweat summer fish dish suits white or red wines
This dish combines savory and fresh elements, calling for a substantial white wine or a light red.
Photo by: Greg Hudson
This dish combines savory and fresh elements, calling for a substantial white wine or a light red.

Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Posted: July 25, 2017

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. 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 feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

Fast, easy, light—this recipe hits all the key elements for relaxed summer dining. A little mixing, a little slicing and a few minutes on the grill are all it takes to pull together this elegant dinner.

Two ingredients do double duty in this dish, serving as the flavor base for both a marinade for the salmon fillets and a dressing for the cucumber salad. White miso paste is a version of the traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans and rice; milder and slightly sweeter than other misos, it's well-suited to condiments and dressings. Toasted sesame oil is darker and stronger than the regular oil, and is best used to add flavor rather than as a cooking oil.

Give the fish some time to soak up the flavors of the marinade. The cucumber salad will hold well if you prepare it in advance, so you can have everything ready earlier in the day and just finish off the salmon on the grill or stove when you’re ready to eat.

The resulting dish is both refreshing and satisfying, with plenty of umami flavor—all achieved without breaking a sweat.

I had an inkling that this dish might find happy matches among both red and white wines. For the white wine camp, I needed a bottle with enough body to stand up to the meaty salmon and a savory quality to work with the umami notes in the miso paste and the soy sauce. But I also wanted enough freshness to complement the cucumbers. I decided to try an Austrian Grüner Veltliner characterized by crisp green apple, white pepper and lots of citrus, accented by herbal notes.

When choosing the red, I similarly looked for a balance of umami and freshness, in a wine with light tannins that would not overwhelm the salmon. I chose a sleek Oregon Pinot Noir with lots of bright cherry and juicy raspberry flavors.

My husband and I sat to down to dinner and went many rounds back and forth between the two wines. For the first time, neither of us could pick a favorite. Each pairing had merits. The Grüner certainly had the edge in freshness and played up the lighter, brighter aspects of the dish. This is the clear winner for a hot, sunny day. However, if the sun has set and summer breezes are blowing, go ahead and choose the Pinot to play up the richness of the salmon and the savory soy flavors.

Miso-Sesame Salmon and Cucumber Salad

Pair with a substantial white such as Birgit Eichinger Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kamptal Hasel 2015 (91 points, $17) or a red with light tannins such as A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir Oregon 2014 (88 points, $20).

Prep time: 5 minutes, plus at least 1 hour for marinating
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Approximate food costs: $36

  • 2–3 tablespoons white miso paste
  • 4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 2–2 1/4 pounds of salmon fillets, cut into 4 portions
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups mung bean sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

1. Mix together 1 to 2 tablespoons of miso paste, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil, 1/2 cup soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sugar. Place the salmon in the mixture, cover and marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Mix together the remaining tablespoon of miso paste, 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of sugar and the rice vinegar. Whisk well. Toss with the cucumber, mung bean sprouts and black sesame seeds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. Preheat grill or a well-oiled grill pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Cook the salmon fillets, skin-side up, for about 2 minutes. Flip, then cook skin-side down for an additional 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare, a little longer if you prefer medium. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with cucumber salad. Serves 4, with generous portions.

Barry Meyers
Oregon —  August 3, 2017 9:44pm ET
Followed recipe precisely using Copper River Chinook. Results were much too salty, and lost the special quality Copper River taste. Suggest cutting the miso and soy in half, and using thicker King Salmon.

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