Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

Chipotle-Glazed Alaska Salmon with Spicy Peanut Salsa

from Chef Rick Bayless


 long time ago there was no food network, no Emerill no game show food shows (yes, even before Iron Chef Japan)... at least none that we were aware of.  There was Julia. There were a few others both renowned and not so much...

Still, with the renaissance that is clearly traced to Julia Child, America did start to get its own home grown great chefs/restauranteurs. In our minds, this includes the great Rick Bayless who rose to prominence by somehow being one of the best Mexican chefs around. He is hardly Mexican, but he knows how and his books are excellent references. We first actually spoke with him when he came to a local restaurant as a guest chef. We have seen him several times at his own restaurants in Chicago. Each time he was gracious and welcoming. Very much like what you see in his TV shows: Mexico--One Plate at a Time. Watch the show, buy the books.

Why we came about this dish is lost to memory. Probably we had just acquired some good salmon and wanted to do something "Mexican" with it. We found the recipe on the internet, cooked it, paired it with a Nalle Winery Zinfandel and loved it so much we wrote to the winery and told them all about it. That was a long time ago. This more or less blog brings everything full circle.

Looking about the 'net now we see there is a variation of the recipe on one of Mr. Bayless' websites, but we're going with the one we did back then.

This is a dish that is really very simple. There may be a few steps you aren't familiar with, but it is worth getting to know them. The result is spectacular and delicious. And, of course, because this is cooking the way you want to eat, there are a few places to use your own judgment.

Cooking by the Book?


ook, we have thousands of cookbooks. Do we ever follow the recipes completely to the letter? Sure. But there are so many reasons to stray off the printed word.

The first is, sometimes the recipes are just wrong. Maybe it was a typo that got through the entire editing process, or maybe (and this happens more than we'd like to imagine), there wasn't really much editing process. (Same goes for a whole lot of recipes you get off the 'net, including ours, there is no huge team of - or even just a few - people testing the recipes. Is that half cup of salt in the recipe for real? Rarely. You do need to exercise some judgment. If you end up with a disaster and want to try it again, you do need to figure out some of the fundamentals that will guide you.

Or maybe you have the perfect recipe, but it has snow peas and all your life (due to an unfortunate childhood experience) you have hated anything to do with snow. Can you substitute snap peas?  Probably.

Or you are half way through a Vietnamese recipe that somebody told you was tremenous and you find out somebody threw out the lemongrass you spent a day looking for (because they thought it looked dried out and useless). Can you use some green curry paste that has been in your fridge for a year or two?  Uh, that's what we did.

Did you know that the weather can change your cooking? Humidity in the air can wreck havoc with baking and even can keep your steak from getting brown.

Some recipes are perfect and still, the next time you make it, you can make it your own by tweaking things to be more to your taste. (Last night we had a dish we've made a dozen times and only just realized --in the middle of eating it-- it would be oh so much better with some sliced toasted almonds. Quick to the freezer. Yes! Found some! And we were right.

Cookbooks are great (we think so). We use them and we use them for ideas. You don't need thousand's, just one's that strike your fancy... We know the ones we go back to time and again, yet still there is so much more that we don't know and enjoy finding out.

So, Common Sense

Garlic Cloves


ur salmon recipe calls for a clove of garlic. These three single cloves came from the head of garlic you see there. Which one do you use? The one in the middle is sort of average. In the end, it mostly depends on how much you like garlic, though too much can be overwhelming in some cases.  If all we had were one's like that on the right, we'd use two. Learn to trust your instinct.

You'll see below that we have cut down a recipe meant for 8 people. The original recipe called for one guajillo or ancho chile. These chiles aren't even the same size (and there is even can be a large variation within a particular type of chile) so how much do you use for the original recipe, let alone when you cut the recipe down? Common sense. There's really no reason to say use one-half a chile, particulary when chiles (even of the same variety) come in different sizes. Since it seemed like two guajillos was the size of one large ancho and we wanted to use the guajillos this time 'round, we decided on two guajillos. (Ancho actually means 'wide chile' in Spanish. they are the top two below. Guajillos, the bottom 3.)


Chile Confusion

While we're talking anchos, we should point out that what is called an ancho may depend on where you live. An ancho is the dried version of the poblano pepper and a pasilla is the dried version of the chilaca pepper. But grocers often mislabel anchos as pasillas. There may be regional variation in the name, but worse, grocers apparently often mislabel one for the other. And then, some grocers will compound the error by labeling the FRESH vesion of the ancho a pasilla!  According to, pasillas tend to be longer and slimmer with a deeper shade of brownish-black while Anchos tend to be much wider and stouter, while featuring tints of dark red among the browns of the dried chili’s skin.

For the purposes of this recipe since we've already told you you can use two different types of chiles, it won't matter if you get the "wrong" ancho.

2 Minutes Per Side?


ost fish overcooks very quickly. Many recipes say cook for so many minutes per side. It doesn't take much to realize that if your fish fillet is thin on one side and thick on the other, it isn't going to be cooked right. What to do?

Well, you could cut off the thin side and toss it out or feed it to the cat, but we don't. There is a simple solution: a toothpick. Just fold the thin side back on itself till you have even thickness across the fillet.

With any luck, after cooking one side, the fish will mostly hold its shape without the toothpick and you will be able to remove the toothpick and flip it. In the end the fish will be evenly cooked througout. Of course this technique is more useful when you have removed the skin. It isn't impossible to do it with skin, but it may not have the desired visual appeal. You decide that one.

The original recipe said to cook the salmon for 2 minutes, flip, another two minutes, coat with glaze and cook until done the way you like it, maybe 2 minutes. Following that to the letter may get you in big trouble. First off, how thick is your salmon piece?  If really thin, it is going to overcook. Thick? Might be undercooked. And, how do you like your salmon cooked. Around here, we like it very much on the rare side. If follow our mantra of HOT PLATES, the fish is also going to keep cooking there. If you don't account for it, the first bite may be okay, but a few minutes later, overcooked. With fish in particular, use the number of minutes as a guideline.  For us, we tend to cut the times in half--or more. And that's if the original author was in the ballpark with their timings. We've seen countless numbers of fish recipes where, if you follow it word for word, your fish will be sawdust.

As much as we are fans of instant read probe thermometers (see our roast chicken recipe), we find we haven't had that much success using them with fish. Maybe we aren't testing often enough. Fish cooks fast! Remember that carry over heat is going to keep cooking your fish. This is one that takes practice, knowing the temperature you want for an individual fish and keeping track for future reference.

Chipotle-Glazed Alaska Salmon with Spicy Peanut Salsa, by Chef Rick Bayless
Serves: 2

2 ea., 6 oz Alaska Salmon fillets, skin removed (really, you can have any size you want!)
Fresh cilantro and/or green onions and/or Mexican spring onions  for garnish

THE SALSA. In a dry skillet, roast the garlic over medium heat, turning occasionally until soft and blackened in spots, about 15 minutes. Remove and let cool; peel. In the same skillet toast the chiles, using a spatula to press them against the heated surface until aromatic - you may see faint whisps of smoke. Cover with hot water and rehydrate for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and transfer to a blender with the garlic, peanuts, and 1 of the canned chipotles. Pour in water to the level of the peanuts and blend to a smooth puree. If necessary, stir in more water to give the mixture the consistency of an easily spoonable salsa. Season with a pinch of salt (the original recipe for 8 people said: usually about 1/2 tsp.).

Roasting Garlic on a Cast Iron Pan
Cutting Open a Guajillo Chile
Seeds & Membranes Removed
Roasting the Chile
Soaking Chile in Water
The Roasted Garlic
Peanut Sauce Ingredients in Blender
Chopping Canned Chipotles
Peanut Sauce and Honey Glaze

THE SALMON. Heat a broiler. In a food processor combine the remaining chipotle chile with the honey and a pinch of salt (again, the recipe for 8 said: 1/2 tsp salt). Puree. Lay the fillets on a lightly oiled baking sheet and position 4 inches below the broiler. Broil 2 minutes, flip the pieces of fish and return to the broiler for 2 more minutes. Brush heavily with the glaze, return under the broiler and cook until as done as you like, usually 2 more minutes for medium to medium-rare salmon. Serve with the peanut salsa and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro/ and or the other garnishes.

The original recipe was for 8 people. We cut it down because how often do you really cook for 8? You can easily double, triple, quadruple the recipe.


The text above stays relatively close to Chef Bayless' text. However, that isn't how we cooked it.

We like our salmon on the rare side so in the end we broiled one side for about 90 seconds and the other side for about 60 seconds. Because we put it on very hot plates it keeps cooking there as well. In such a short period of time we don't really see why it is done in the broiler at all. The glaze barely has time to be cooked at all (but we admit we have a very wimpy broiler). That being the case you could just as easily fry the fish in a pan. Do one side, flip and quickly put on the glaze and finish.  Or wait to put the glaze on after the fish is done cooking!  Just make sure it has been warmed a bit and is thick.
If you are going to use a frying pan, you could leave the skin on. Heat the oil very hot and fry the skin side. With any luck it will be crispy in the short time it will be cooked. (Of course you have the problem of  how you want to deal with the varying size of the fillet from thick to thin as detailed above.)

If you REALLY like the skin, remove it, slice it up,  and fry it separately like Chicharrones. Use it as a garnish on top of the fish. A great (and tasty) touch.


Bonus Recipe: Green Chile Rice

The recipes in the essay on this webpage are all about using your own judgment and maybe creativity. Not just following everything without thinking about it. To that end, when we were making the salmon recipe we knew we'd have rice.  We have our way of making rice with Mexican meals, but we thought we'd change it up for this special recipe. It hit on us to add green chiles. Surfing around the 'net we found a lot of recipes for Mexican style "Green Chile Rice". They looked good but most of them included cream. In the end, we really didn't need a recipe. Here's what we did (was perfect with it):

3/4 cup medium grain rice
Pinch of salt or a little bit of chicken boullion or a cube of your homemade chicken stock (See our recipe for roast chicken.)
1 or 2 green chiles
some cooking oil

Roast the chiles until blackened.  You can do this over an open flame (we put them on a BBQ rack on top of our gas stovetop... or you could use the BBQ. Or roast in the oven. Or roast under the broiler. Place in a fairly tight container to steam and cool. Remove the skin (scrape off with a knife). Chop up and reserve.

Put a little bit of cooking oil in a saute pan that has a cover. Over medium heat saute the rice for about 5 minutes. Don't brown it. Add the salt, chilies and 1 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover. Cook 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit another 10 minutes.


TIP: We often make Mexican rice earlier in the day. What we do can also apply to this green rice dish. We have a normal sized pottery soup bowl that will hold it all. After the 10 minutes of sitting, we take half the rice and put it in the bowl, spreading out the rice in the pan. The point of that is to cool it faster.  When they are both cool enough to go in the fridge,  put the rest of the rice from the pan in the bowl. Cover if you like with plastic wrap. When it is time to eat, reheat the rice in the microwave. For us it is 5 minutes at full power.

Wine Pairing

Nalle ZinNalle Winery
Zin is the go-to wine for this dish, so you are all set with Nalle since that's always been their calling. As we mentioned above, the first time we made this dish we had it with a Nalle Zin which prompted us to write the winery, it was that good. That was the 2006 Reserve Zin. We had it again recently with the 2013 Dry Creek Zin. It should be great with the 2016!

Margarita's would be nice as well.  

Nalle Winery Squirrels


Here are summaries of the recipes in a .pdf you can print

2022 Update. We had a 2004 Nalle Zin that we wanted to drink. It was absolutely wonderful. Who said Zin's can't age? Nalle's obviously do. When we don't have real thick Salmon we like to remove the skin and fry it till crispy and eat along side the fillet which we mostly sear so that is almost medium rare. So to simplify the recipe we skipped the glaze instructions and took the garlic, peanuts, ancho (prepared as instructed), chipotles, salt and honey and mixed them all together in a blender and used that as a sauce. It needed some bit of water to thin it to a pourable consistencey. Less work and wonderful match to the salmon.

2004 Zin