Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

Salmon Sandwich Al Pastor/BBQ Flavors


ummer has arrived and we wanted to do something really different that would pair with Pinot Noir. Notwithstanding the film 'Sideways' (good Merlot really is good) we love Pinot. And Pinot is well known to pair with salmon. So then, what to do?  How many grilled salmon fillets with fruit/or mustard/or nut crusts/or... are out there? Tons. We wanted to explore, and in the face of summer, BBQ and Mexican flavors we decided to invent our own Salmon Sandwich. Starting with a recipe we found on the 'net for a 'Hawaiian Salmon Sandwich' that used caramelized pineapple we thought, Pineapple, what about al pastor?

Now tacos al pastor isn't a flavor, it is a method. Al pastor means 'shepherd style' and it is associated with a Mexican dish brought there by the Lebanese who slice meat off a large spit. But tacos al pastor the recipe typically uses pineapple juice and caramelized pineapple rings. The Hawaii recipe used a BBQ sauce so we decided to convert everything to something with Mexican flavors. A Serious Eats recipe we've made included bacon and all that led to the creation of our Salmon Sandwich Al Pastor/BBQ Flavors. Sounds like something out of  'Top Chef'.

We tried it out and found it was a great sandwich that paired wonderfully with Pinot. So here we present our sandwich along with some bonus recipes that made for a full fledged summer meal on a plate.


Just about every pineapple we've seen of late says on their label that they are ripe and ready to eat. Like just about every supermarket ad for avocados say "ripe" (they aren't). You do want to take a little time to see if you can get one that is ripe and ready and by the same token, not so ripe as to be fermenting in your hand. But, how?


According to Dole Fruit Hawaii , a pineapple should be "plump and fresh looking. Fresh, green leaves in the crown are a good sign. The body should be firm – not soft. The larger the pineapple, the greater proportion of edible fruit. That doesn’t mean necessarily that it is better tasting or any riper than smaller fruit. Shell color is not necessarily a sign of maturity or ripeness.

A pineapple can be ripe when it is practically all green outside. The plantation calls it 'green-shell ripe.' Shell color of ripe fruit are divided into seven groups or levels ranging from No. 0, all green, to No. 6, all yellow. The sugar comes from the conversion of starch reserves in the stump at the time of ripening . . . . The sooner they are eaten, the better. If you don’t plan to use a fresh pineapple right away, store it in your refrigerator. It will keep better and longer."

The most important test: smell the fruit at the bottom. It should be fragrant and smell like, well, a ripe pineapple. And while you can buy an all green, ripe pineapple, if you find one that is yellowing or yellow you'll probably have a better chance at getting the sweetest fruit.

We've heard that you can tell if the fruit is ready by pulling a leaf out of the top, but according to Dole it just isn't true.

Pineapples do not get sweeter once picked but there are some who say you can distribute the sweetness by turning it upside down and letting it sit for a few days. But to us, buy a pineapple, store in the fridge, and use it within a day or two.

The Easiest Way to Skin a Salmon

Have the fishmonger do it.

OK, so we got the salmon for this dish from Trader Joe's. It was frozen sockeye salmon, which is really good for this sandwich and we suggest you go with it or king salmon as they are the fattier of the salmons you will find. Salmon also is pretty good even when flash frozen. It was 'skin on.' While we usually do leave the skin on our salmon (even in recipes that say to skin it, we like eating crispy salmon skin), that doesn't really work for a sandwich. But with the right tools, it really is pretty easy to skin a salmon. (Having the right tools always makes a big difference).

In this case you want a long, thin, flexible blade. There are knives made just for salmon, but you don't have to go that far as you really should have a nice boning knife in your tool (we mean knife) drawer. The one we use was purchased at a county fair a long time ago for about $10 and it works just fine. Remember to using a honing steel on all knives, it makes a big difference.

Take the knife and just start to peel the skin away. Use a piece of towel paper to grasp on to the skin you've just exposed then lay the knife flat against the skin, pressing the flat side down against the cutting board, then work your way across the fish until it is skinned. A good knife makes this a really simple task.

How to Chop a Salmon

(and a whole bunch of other things)


 lot of people would grind the salmon for this dish in a food processor. Don't get us wrong, we love food processors and we baby one really old one that was the very first ever released (a Robot Coupe, circa 1980). But you can reduce a whole lot of things to mush really quickly and we don't think that's a good idea for this dish. Besides, since you can quickly chop the salmon with a couple of knives (we used two inexpensive Chinese cleavers) then the only cleanup are the two knives. It's really almost faster and at probably more satisfying, not to mention taking out your aggression on the fillets. We chopped with a quick up and down motion with both hands and it really was chopped fine in about a minute.

Chopping Salmon

The Recipe

Most salmon patty recipes call for some sort of binder in the form of bread crumbs. The amount varies widely. Some recipes also call for an egg or two, or maybe just egg white. Then there is a recipe from Daniel Gritzer at Serious Eats (a website we like a lot) where there are no binders at all.  We fall into the no binder group since it should allow more of the fish flavor to come through. But, you have to be careful. In Mr. Gritzer's recipe, he has you squeeze the patties in your hand to get them to hold together. In our technique we use a ring mold (well, an old crab can) to make evenly weighted round patties. Either way you need to get it to come together as well as possible as they will have a tendency to fall apart when cooking if you aren't careful. But, even if they do, once you press them into the sandwich, nobody will ever know. You can check out the Serious Eats recipe for pictures on their technique.

Japanese Panko is all the rage these days, and for good reason. The general answer you get from a quick search is that the biggest difference between panko and regular bread crumbs is that they are made from bread without crusts. But that doesn't tell the half of it. Instead of being cooked in a regular oven they are actually cooked by a direct application of electrical current via metal plates. (Huh?) Then they are put through special grating screens which create crispy jagged pieces. Hardly what you would call crumbs. They can end up making your dish a lot crispier and crunchier. If you've had Tonkatsu (a Japanese Pork Cutlet), you've seen how that all comes out.

We are partial to the Kikkoman brand of Panko as the ingredients state: WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, YEAST, SALT. There are other brands that contain high fructose corn syrup and/or partially hydrogenated oils and who knows what else.

By the way, "Panko Bread Crumbs" is a tautology. Panko means bread crumbs in Japanese.

Salmon Sandwich Al Pastor/BBQ Flavors

   1/2 cup of  store bought BBQ sauce (We used Sweet Baby Ray's since it was on hand from Costco)
    2 TB pineapple juice or 1 TB frozen concentrated pineapple juice + 1 TB  water
    2 TB lime juice
    2 TB fresh cilantro chopped
    1 canned chipotle in adobo, chopped fine
    1 tsp adobo from the chipotle in adobo can 
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 pound raw salmon (skin removed)
    2 tablespoons freshly grated queso anejo cheese (could substitute enchilado, or even parmesan)
    1/4 cup Panko (preferred) or other slightly toasted bread crumbs, optional
     More Panko (preferred) or other slightly toasted bread crumbs for coating patties
    4 portions Mexican cheese, such as oaxaca, machego, chichuchua, or substitute something like jack or even cheddar
    4 pickled jalapenos, sliced, optional
    4 large hamburger buns
    1 large ripe avocado
    4 large slices bacon
    a Fresh Ripe Pineapple
    1/4 cup olive oil or other vegetable oil for frying

    In a small bowl combine the BBQ sauce, pineapple juice, lime juice, cilantro, chipotle, and adobo and and mix well to combine. Set aside.

    Chop the salmon very finely. See comments above. You could use a food processor, but be very careful not to turn it to mush. Place in a bowl with queso anejo. the 1/2 tsp of salt, 2 tablespoons of the BBQ sauce mixture (saving the rest of the BBQ sauce mixture for serving) and 1/4 cup of panko or bread crumbs if using. Mix with a spoon until just combined.

Form into 4 equally sized burgers about the size of your large buns.

HINT: We keep at hand what was a can of crab about 4" in diameter. We cut both sides off and use it as a mold for various things like this. We put some parchment paper on a tray, then we weighed the salmon, divided by 4 to get the weight of a patty, tared the scale and remove the weight of a patty and put it in the ring pressing down firmly to bring it together. Remove the ring. Tare the scale and repeat for the rest of the patties. OR, use the techniques referred to in the Serious Eats recipe mentioned at the top of this section. Of course you need a scale that can be 'tared'. This is really an important tool for every kitchen. (What's "tare"? Put an empty container on a scale. It will have weight, of course. Push the tare button -- whatever it is on a scale that can tare -- and it will set the scale to zero. You can now put something in the container and know the weight without the container. And as we showed above, you can put a bunch of stuff in a container and remove accurately weighted portions by merely taring the scale after each removal (it will show as a negative number). That's a cool trick.)

Making Patties

 Refrigerate for at least 2 hours which will help hold them together:

Patties in Fridge

Put a fair amount of the panko (or bread crumbs) on a plate or in a large flat container. Carefully place a chilled salmon patty on the panko and press a little. Carefully turn it over and repeat. you can pick up some more panko and press on top. Repeat for the 4 patties, getting as much coating all over as you can.


Put them back in the fridge.

On a grill pan or a frying pan if you don't have a grill pan (but we suggest getting one, they're fun), heat some oil until smoking. CAREFULLY wipe most of it off with tongs and paper towel. (This is a tip we picked up from the amazing Chinese Cookbook writer, Fuchsia Dunlop who does it to 'season' her carbon steel woks before each use.) Spray or brush some oil on each side of the pineapple slices and then grill each side until browned and tender. About 3-5 minutes per side depending on your stove. With a paring knife remove the core, making a pineapple ring.  You could also cook the pineapple rings in a broiler, but we've found the grill pan is far more effective.

Grilling Pineapple

Mash the avocado adding salt to taste. Slice the jalapenos.

Fry up the bacon till crisp. When done cut each in half making 8 pieces. (HINT: There are a lot of theories on how to cook perfect bacon: In the microwave between sheets of paper towel. In the oven. Fried up in a skillet as has been done for ages, or maybe put about 1/4 cup of water in the skillet first so it cooks some and lays flat and when the water evaporates starts to crisp up. This last one is what we've been doing of late, but find what works for you best.)

Add oil to a large cast iron skillet (or we are real fans of the lighter weight carbon steel pans) and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. VERY carefully place the salmon patties into the pan and cook, turning once or twice, until lightly browned on both sides and medium-rare within (about 115 to 120°F on an instant-read thermometer) adjusting the heat to keep things sizzling, but not burning the panko/bread crumbs.

NOTE: We do not like our salmon overcooked and for us it cooked it in about 2 minutes per side on our rather high heat stove. The panko wasn't as browned as it might get if you cook longer, but how you want your salmon done should be paramount. When we took ours out of the pan it was red/pink inside. That's how we like it. You could play with the amount of heat in the pan in searing the outsides to brownness, keeping the insides more 'rare'. WARNING: they may fall apart a bit if you aren't careful, BUT, if you get them on the bun you can press it together and nobody will ever know.

TIP: An even better way to get browned crispy on your panko if you are not going to cook the salmon for long is to pre-brown it.  Put the panko in a dry skillet (cast iron is really good for this) over medium heat. Brown the panko.  Don't make it REAL brown as there will be some more browning. Be careful, once it starts to brown it can get to dark brown or burnt pretty quickly. Have another cool pan available to dump it in to cool it off quickly.

Toast, grill or otherwise heat the hamburger buns. Put a portion of cheese (however much you like) on the bun top and melt by the method of your choice (broiler, microwave, etc).

To assemble place a piece of lettuce on the bottom of a bun, then 1/4 of the mashed avocado, then two pieces of bacon, then the jalapeno slices to taste, then the salmon 'burger', then a ring of caramelized pineapple. Pour more BBQ sauce over each burger and top with the melted cheese side of the bun.


Salmon Sandwich BBQ/Al Pastor flavor

Bonus Recipes

The salmon sandwich alone was great but we decided to go all out for a full fledged fancy restaurant style plate. So we made a habanero/caramelized pineapple salsa to eat with chips and a side 'salad' of  Mexican flavors.

Roasted Pineapple Salsa

This comes from the mind of Roberto Santabaňez in his book "Truly Mexican'. We wanted to have chips and dip and leafing through the book we found a caramelized pineapple salsa and we thought, well that ought to go with our salmon patty recipe. Oddly enough we didn't read the introduction until typing this up and it turns out he explicitly said that the salsa brings to mind tacos al pastor! Well, guess we got it right.

Salsa Ingredients

This salsa is for lovers of heat. The habanero is way up there as one of the hottest peppers. But it doesn't just add heat to a dish, it has a wonderful fruity flavor. You don't have to use as much as the recipe calls for. Or, you can use more! We found that the other ingredients moderated the heat, but we are veteran chile heads. We used to grow them ourselves because you couldn't buy them, but now they are far more prevalent in the groceries near us and while not cheap, you can pick up a couple for about a dime. We didn't have have any fresh ones on hand so used some we'd boiled in salted water and refrigerated. That also probably reduced the heat some.

Be very careful in handling habaneros. Wash your hands thoroughly after working with them. Do not touch your eyes (or any other sensitive places on your body). You will regret it. Gloves would be a good idea. We're old hands and know what we're doing. What? Who are we kidding! We haven't used gloves and have paid the price--dearly. You really don't want to find out how that feels. Do not let that deter you from using them, however. They're delicious.


4 1/2" thick round slices fresh pineapple
1/4 cup mild olive oil or vegetable oil (you can get away with less, to taste)
1 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup lime juice or more to taste
2 fresh habanero chiles, minced, including seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cook the pineapple rings as described in the Salmon Sandwich recipe above then let cool to room temperature.  Remove the core with a paring knife then dice into pieces about 1/8". Mix the pineapple and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl adding additional lime juice and salt to taste.

This salsa would be really good with fish tacos, or many other tacos of your choice or perhaps over a grilled chicken.

But we had it with tortilla chips. If you find the salsa a bit 'clunky' for the chips, just dice the pineapple and onion smaller.

Pineapple Habanero Salsa


What's the best way not to eat a whole bag of tortilla chips at once? Don't have them in the house. Guess that goes for just about anything. But we've found a second best way that works for us. We keep a package of corn tortillas in the freezer and when we need chips we thaw some out (usually about 6, either leave them out a bit or about 30 seconds in the microwave give or take) cut them into eighths and bake them in our counter top convection oven. (You could also use a, toaster oven or just just a regular oven.) Sometimes we'll spray them with  a little cooking spray and sprinkle salt on them before baking. Are they as good as the ones from the store? Probably not, but they have a lot fewer calories and it means we don't eat that whole bag besides.

We wish we could tell you how to bake them, but every oven is different and it is a trial and error thing until you find what works best for you. Recently our old convection oven bit the dust and we're still trying to figure the right cooking times in our new one. For us it is about 400 degrees with convection for about 9 minutes starting from a cold oven, then leave to cool in oven. But it isn't totally there yet, we're still experimenting.

Tortilla Chips in Oven

We did find a really good website that talks about methods and how to fix what goes wrong and we suggest you take a look at it.

Mango, Jicama and Cucumber Salad

We wanted a salad to round out our go for broke salmon sandwich plate and had in mind one of the standard orange slices, greens and jicama creations. The very first thing we hit when searching the 'net, however, was a video with Martha Stewart and Rick Bayless. If you have looked through this site you'll know we are huge Rick Bayless fans. So once again we let fate take its course and went with the master.

Mango Jicama Cucumber Chile


We headed off to the local Carniceria where we usually get a lot of our Hispanic goods. But it's just a small place and they didn't have any Jicama (!).

Pachyrhizus erosus, commonly known as jicama, Spanish jícama, Mexican yam bean, or Mexican turnip, is the name of a native Mexican vine, although the name most commonly refers to the plant's edible tuberous root (adapted from Wikipedia). What you get mostly from it is crunch, but it is also a little sweet. We eventually found a really big one at a regular grocery.

The Recipe

1 large mango, peeled, pitted and cubed.
Jicama, about 1/2 pound, peeled and cubed
1 cucumber, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp pure ground chile such as ancho or guajillo
one or two fresh limes

In a non-reactive bowl mix the mango, jicama, cucumber and chile powder. Salt to taste. Lime juice to taste.

Mango, Jicama, Cucumber Salad

We wanted our salad to be part of our plate so we cubed the ingredients accordingly. If you are playful and want to do it up like Mr. Bayless, you'll want to cut the mango, jicama and cucumber into what he describes as "fingers" and place into sno-cone holders, sprinkling the salt, chile and lemon juice on top. Eat by hand. Video and recipe here.

Chile Powder

In a regular grocery you are still apt to find something in the spice section called chile powder that is really a combination of  things that include some sort of chile powder plus other things like cumin and salt. This is not what we are looking for in this recipe. In large groceries near us you can also find small plastic bags of pure chile powder, most likely cayenne or ancho. For this recipe you're looking for ancho. Sometimes they are in the 'Hispanic' Section, or sometimes squirreled away in a corner somewhere or at the end of an aisle.

If  you have access to dried chiles, you can get a whole bag of dried anchos (though they might be called pasillas or even ancho-pasilla, depending on where you live). Anchos are a dark brown and wide at the top. In fact, ancho actually means wide. The ancho is actually the dried version of a poblano pepper (the one probably most often used for chile rellenos).

In any event, you can take an ancho, remove the stem, cut it open with scissors, remove the seeds and quickly toast in a hot pan. You just want to get a wisp of smoke, the skin will start to turn color. Be careful not to burn it. Depending on the heat of the pan it might only take 10 seconds or so. Let the chili cool and grind in a spice grinder. We love to sprinkle it on other things like our 'best we've ever tasted' tortilla soup.

Wine Pairing

Nalle Pinot NoirNalle Winery
We wanted to make something that paired with Pinot Noir and the first thing that came to mind was salmon. (The second was mushrooms.) Pinot Noir and salmon is a classic pairing. Nalle's classic Burgundian pinot pairs well with the smoky chipotle and the fruitiness of the pineapple, not to mention with the sublime taste of  wild sockeye salmon.

Nalle Winery Squirrels


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