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Salmon Red Wine Sauce

Salmon Red Wine Sauce

Time: 60 minutes

“Classic writers warn against using oily fish such as salmon to make fish sauces because they can make the sauce taste fishy. When a salmon head, which releases an enormous amount of gelatin, is simmered with red wine. The sauce is reduced almost to a syrup before being finished with butter. The sauce is gloriously rich and complex. It is perfect for full-flavored seafood dishes.

To bring out the best flavor, the salmon head should be cooked with aromatic vegetables until it falls apart and leaves a brown crust attached to the pan. At this point, wine is added. The sauce simmered to extract the flavor and gelatin from the head. The braising liquid is slowly reduced and skimmed of fat before being finished with chopped parsley, which adds a fresh note, and a dash of Cognac, which adds a spot of complexity. Butter is swirled in as a final finish.” ~ James Peterson


Yield: 4 servings

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 salmon head, gills removed
  • 1 small carrot, peeled, diced
  • 1 bottle full-bodied dry red wine
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 bouquet garni containing 10 sprigs of fresh thyme, a bay leaf, and stems from the bunch of parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac
  • 1 teaspoon wine vinegar or more to taste
  • Salt & pepper


Step 1

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed medium pot. Add the salmon head and the vegetables. Stir, every few minutes, over medium to high heat, until the salmon head falls apart. It takes about 20 minutes.

Step 2

Put the salmon head in a pot with aromatic vegetables.

Step 3

When the fat has separated, add red wine.

Step 4

Tie up the ingredients for the bouquet garni and add to the pot. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, skimming off any froth or scum that floats to the top. Chop the parsley fine and reserve.

Step 5

Strain the sauce into a clean saucepan and simmer it gently, skimming all the while, until you have about a half of a cup left.

Step 6

Simmer gently while skimming off fat.

Step 7

Add the reserved parsley, Cognac, and vinegar—boil for a second to cook the alcohol off the Cognac. Continue reducing and skimming.

Step 8

Swirl in the remaining butter, whisking the whole time, until it emulsifies the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust the vinegar if needed. If the sauce gets too thick, thin it with a teaspoon or two of water. Serve over prepared full flavored fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, or halibut.