Of Course You Can Drink Red Wine with Fish!

Can you drink red wine with fish? I hope to tear down a few walls here today and answer that question. I plan to do it with an unusual recipe for Spiced Salmon with Wine Braised Shallots, Edamame & Sunchoke Puree, I adapted from Holly Peterson, CIA.

The wall that’s about to tumble today is the old belief that red wine is for meat and white wine is for fish. 9 out of 10 people you ask will agree with this premise. And there’s a lot of conventional wisdom (and even some science) supporting this malarkey. But like all conventional wisdom (and all malarkey for that matter), it’s never as simple as the simpletons would have you believe. It’s a mantra we’ve heard regularly, so we tend to stick to it rigidly– even when our own palates tell us otherwise.

Sure white wines are generally a good choice for fish. Fish itself is lighter and more delicate in flavor than meat dishes. One of the first ‘rules’ in pairing food with wine is the proper balance of ‘weight’ and ‘texture’ between the food and wine, so at the most basic level it makes perfect sense to choose white wine with fish and red wine with the heavier textures found in meat.

salmon ingredients Red Wine with FishBut that doesn’t mean you can’t pair red wine with fish. The key still lies in balance; you don’t want to overpower the flavor of the fish with a big wine unless there are supporting flavors and textures that change the overall weight of the flavor profile.

Which is exactly what today’s recipe for red wine with fish accomplishes. Because hidden in this recipe is a bridge between the fish and the bolder, spicier nature of some red wines. And I have a map to that bridge I’m willing to share.

If we look at the recipe we will see a mixture of strong spices. Black pepper, cumin, coriander and mustard seeds. These spices are not only heavy handed, but their power is amplified because I am using them as a dry rub on the fish.

This treatment certainly defines the flavor profile and must be considered when pairing this spice rubbed fish with wine. Still, not any fish could hold its integrity when handled this way, so I chose salmon. Salmon is a fatty enough fish with enough of its own weight and texture to stand beside these bold flavors and still assert itself.

Red Wine with Fish

My thinking goes like this: If a meaty fish has enough weight to stand up to cumin, certainly it has enough chutzpah to handle a nice fruity red wine. Maybe something with just enough spice to mirror some of the flavors in the spice rub. The same spices that completely change the balance in this recipe and add an extra element of weight that needs to be considered when pairing this red wine with fish.

Typically, I’d have my brother pair a dish like this with a very specific wine. But then you’d be substituting conventional wisdom for the advice of an expert. Both are reasonable ways to choose wine, but I’d rather you think about the pairing on your own. Because ultimately I prefer the wisdom in another old wine adage: Drink what you like, and you will like what you drink. So go ahead and drink red wine with fish (if you like). GREG


Spiced Salmon with Wine Braised Shallots, Edamame & Sunchoke Puree serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe 

  • 1 1⁄2 lb sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes
  • 1 medium Yukon gold potato
  • 3 T unsalted butter, divided
  • coarse salt, as needed
  • 1 t whole black peppercorns
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 2 t sugar, divided
  • 8 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 1⁄2 c spicy, fruity red wine, such as zinfandel
  • 1 c fresh or frozen shelled edamame
  • 1⁄2 c chicken stock
  • freshly cracked black pepper, as needed
  • 1 t extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 t mint leaves, minced
  • 4 skinless salmon fillets, about 5–6 oz each

spiced salmon with sunchoke puree Red Wine with FishInstructions

Make the sunchoke puree: Fill large saucepan with water. Peel sunchokes and potatoes. Cut them into 2‑inch chunks and put them in a saucepan with just enough milk to cover, then add about 1‑inch more of water. Add a generous pinch of salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until sunchokes and potatoes are very tender, about 12 minutes. Drain well. Transfer sunchokes and potatoes to processor; add butter and puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. May be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand uncovered at room temperature. Rewarm over medium-low heat before serving.

Prepare the spice rub: Add black peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt to the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Grind the mixture well, but not completely to a fine powder. Pour it into a wide shallow bowl and set aside.

Braise the shallots: Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch saute pan set over medium-low heat. When the butter melts add 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the shallot slices and stir to coat well. Cook about 3 minutes until the shallots begin to soften. Add the wine, and continue cooking, stirring often, until the wine has evaporated and the shallots are deeply red and jammy looking. About 45 minutes. Cover and keep warm until serving.

If the edamame are frozen, briefly blanch them in boiling water. Drain.

In a 1 1/2 quart saucepan set over medium heat, warm the edamame 1/2 cup chicken stock with a pinch of salt and black pepper. About 2 minutes total. Just before serving stir in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon minced mint leaves.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Roll each salmon fillet in the ground spice mixture until well coated on all sides. Place each fillet onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Place the sheet onto the middle rack of the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until barely cooked through and still a bit jiggly or rare. A few moment longer if you prefer the fish cooked through. Do not overcook however.

To serve: Place a cup or so of the sunchoke puree on each plate. Nestle a fillet up against the puree and drape some of the shallots across the top. Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of edamame onto each fillet with a drizzle of olive oil and serve immediately.

Red Wine with Fish


Greg Henry