30 Days of Ontario Wine – Day 19 – Sous Vide Salmon with Karlo Estates 2010 CHOA Chardonnay

With a bottle of 2010 Chardonnay CHOA from Karlo Estates sitting heavily in my hand the question of how to cook a recipe with it weighed on my mind. We produce great wine in Ontario, but unlike other regions (Spain, Italy, and Chile come to mind) even the most ordinary (this bottle definitely isn't) aren't cheap. Pouring an entire $25 bottle into a pot would be nice but impractical. I needed a method for bringing the Chardonnay's rich, toasted flavours more closely in touch with the main ingredients and I wanted to use a glass or less.

One of the wine's most interesting characteristics is cryptically announced as "CHOA" on the front label and then further explained on the back. Almost all wine barrels are made from oak–usually from France or the United States–but this wine is barrel-fermented for three months in one made from cherry, hickory, oak, and ash that were cut from Prince Edward County trees and coopered by the local Carriage House Cooperage. These four trees grow beside each other in natural stands so it made more sense to take all of the mature trees rather than try to spot harvest the oak.

The mix also creates a barrel profile on the wine that is different from usual. Honeyed peach, stewed pear and citrus aromas are joined on the nose by the very subtle note of bacon (hickory) and baseball (ash). It carries a medium-plus weight on the palate and surprisingly subtle barrel flavours that lend much less vanilla than usual and reminded me of a spoonful of bread pudding with lots of the toasty brown bits.

For such a lush wine with a faint hint of smokiness and an important connection to the wood the barrels are made with, salmon struck me as a natural partner.

On Serious Eats I found an interesting recipe that comes from Alice Waters for shallow poaching salmon. Since it only uses a quarter of a cup of wine I felt it had potential, but that I could do better if I could avoid dilluting the sauce with all that poaching water. Sous vide is the best way I could think of to accomplish that and because the desired cooked temperature of salmon is so low it's the perfect candidate for the "ghetto sous vide" method that doesn't require any special, expensive equipment.

Nathan Myhrvold with his encyclopedic Modernist Cuisine is the honorary spokesman for unconventional cooking methods and luckily the New York Times's Melissa Clark had a story in January 2012 that includes a video where Dr. Myhrvold walks us through his process for sous vide salmon.

The recipe below will serve two and obviously goes very nicely with what's left in the bottle. If you're cooking for a larger crowd it scales up and if you're looking to crack a second bottle of Chardonnay the 2009 edition from The Good Earth Wine Co. would be a great choice. With zesty, baked fruit aromas and a sneaky acidic punch this Chardonnay will refresh the palate and keep the buttery sauce under control.

Sous Vide Salmon in a CHOA Chardonnay Sauce
(Adapted from Nathan Myhrvold's recipe in this NYT article.)
two serving-size pieces of salmon fillet, patted dry and carefully checked for pin bones
2 TB unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon plus 1/2 tsp flat-leaf parsley, minced, and divided
1/4 cup plus 1 TB, Karlo Estates 2010 Chardonnay CHOA, divided
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Season the salmon on all sides. Place it in a good-quality resealable bag with a teaspoon of minced parsley and the quarter cup of wine.  Fill a medium to large pot with hot tap water to about the 2/3-full point. Add cold water to bring the temperature to 115ºF.  Gently lower the salmon-filled bag into the water and use the pressure from the water to push the air out of the bag before sealing the bag, being careful to not get any water inside the bag. Put the lid on the pot and let stand for between thirty minutes and two hours.
Remove the bag from the water and use to tongs to move the salmon to a plate. Pour the contents of the bag into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Once the sauce is simmering add the butter one cube at a time and whisk to combine. Add the final tablespoon of wine to the sauce and move the salmon to the pan. Use a large spoon to baste the fish with the sauce for a minute or two. Serve, garnished with the extra half teaspoon of parsley.

Wines Tasted
2010 Karlo Estates CHOA Chardonnay
Price: 25.00
Availability: At the winery or through their web site

2009 The Good Earth Wine Co. Chardonnay
Price: 19.95
Availability: At the winery or through their web site.

Written by David Ort

David Ort

As one of Spotlight’s contributing editors, David enjoys turning his mind (and keyboard) to a wide variety of topics ranging from recipes to restaurants to craft beer. When he’s not writing for Spotlight Toronto, David shares his thoughts on new restaurants and beer at PostCity.com and all things food and drink on his own site, Food With Legs. He is the author of the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook (Whitecap).

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