It was news to make an ocean-conscious, ethical foodie run for his fishing pole: Pacific salmon stocks are back. By now you may have read about the miraculous resurgence of the succulent fish in the northwest.
After years of scary declines in the population, which prompted eco-sensitive chefs to remove the prized pink flesh from their menus, researchers are saying the ocean is becoming overcrowded with salmon. The boom may not last, but some consumers are gorging while they can.
Which raises the potable question: What should we be slurping with all that glorious sockeye, wild pink and chum?
At a recent dinner I attended as part of the charity Grand Cru Culinary Wine Festival in support of research at Toronto General and Western hospitals, New York superstar chef Daniel Boulud had a mind-bending answer, old Bordeaux. Challenged to create a dish to go with Château Lafite-Rothschild 1996, he offered wild salmon baked on fig leaves with fennel confit and a Bordelaise sauce. Not many toques would dare serve a big cabernet sauvignon-based red, typically uncorked for beef or lamb, with fish.
But Boulud is a master at making fish work with bold reds, usually by creating a wine-flavoured sauce as a bridge. He did it most famously with a signature dish from his days at Manhattan's Le Cirque, sea bass in Barolo sauce.
Few of us can boast of Boulud's chops in the kitchen, of course, and I'm not going to suggest you haul up that '96 Lafite from the cellar for salmon sushi. But a virtue of salmon is its versatility with wine. It can pair equally well with lighter-bodied reds, notably pinot noir, as with whites. Even whisky can do it justice. It all depends on how the fish is prepared. Some suggestions follow.
With raw salmon, as in Japanese-style sashimi, try Champagne or dry sparkling wine if you dislike sake. Ditto for salmon baked in puff pastry, such as those frozen President's Choice Wild Pacific Salmon Mini Wellingtons. For sashimi, I also like single malt whisky from Scotland, a seemingly odd pairing I'm told is big with high rollers in Japan. The heat and spice of the spirit make for a nice counterbalance to the fatty, cold fish.
If you're serving the fish poached, choose an unoaked or lightly oaked chardonnay, such as Chablis. If there's a lot of dill going on in the preparation, consider sauvignon blanc, ideally a richer style from California, which includes "fume blanc."
For grilled, pan-seared or oven roasted salmon, it's a toss-up between chardonnay (if you prefer white) and pinot noir (if you prefer red).
Champagne is nice with fried fish cakes, though I'd probably choose a more affordable dry sparkling wine from outside the high-priced Champagne region, such as a blanquette de Limoux or cremant d'Alsace, both from France, or a cava from Spain.
If you're serving salmon mousse, try chardonnay or viognier and with smoked salmon, your pairing depends on your choice of garnish. If you like it unadorned, on toasted bread, consider a smoky single malt; with capers and sliced red onion, try a crisp Mediterranean white such as verdicchio from Italy; with crème fraîche and dill, think chardonnay or an aromatic blend, such as a sauvignon-chardonnay or colombard-chardonnay.
Consider the following selections, all good buys, for a salmon blowout.
Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette de Limoux (France)
Price: $18.95 in Ont.
A blend of mostly mauzac with some chardonnay, this creamy French sparkler bubbles with notes of brioche and citrus. Salmon sushi or salmon Wellington would be a good match.
Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (California)
Price: $17.95 in Ont.
Light- to medium-bodied with a soft texture and notes of lemon, grapefruit, grass and stone. Pair with poached salmon with dill.
Yvon Mau Colombard Chardonnay 2009 (France)
Price: $8.95 in Ont.
This southern French white is a remarkable value. Light- to medium-bodied, with a silky texture and flavours of peach, apple, banana and vanilla, lifted by good acidity. Serve it alongside salmon with crème fraîiche or cream cheese.
Road 13 Viognier Riesling Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (British Columbia)
Price: $22.99 through www.road13vineyards.com
A smart blend that combines the silky texture and orange overtones of viognier with fresh acidity from riesling and sauvignon blanc. A fine partner for salmon mousse or lox with cream cheese.
Greenlane Estate Winery Greetings Chardonnay 2008 (Ontario)
Price: $16 through www.greenlanewinery.com
This medium full-bodied white from Niagara offers up ripe pear, pineapple and toasty oak, with zippy acidity on the finish. Good for grilled or roasted salmon.
Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2008 (Ontario)
Price: $34.95 in Ont. through www.rosehallrun.com
Light- to medium-bodied, with classic pinot character, this red from Prince Edward County offers up raspberry, plum jam and subtle cinnamon, with a spicy edge on the crisp finish. Try with grilled or pan-seared salmon fillets.
Bowmore 12 Year Old Whisky (Scotland)
Price: $42.15 in Ont.; $59.99 in B.C.
The distiller for a major, competing whisky house in Scotland recently confided to me - on condition of anonymity - that this is, hands down, the best single-malt buy on the shelves. And that was before the current $5 discount in Ontario (from $47.15) in effect till Nov. 7. Briny, slightly smoky and smooth, with long-lasting flavours of honey, citrus and damp earth, it would make a fine partner for smoked or raw salmon.