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Mother's Grilled Bristol Bay Salmon with Red Onion Compote, Red Wine Beurre Rouge

Courtesy of Lisa Schroeder, owner and executive chef of Mother's Bistro and Mama Mia Trattoria in Portland, Ore.

Makes 6 servings

This is one of my all-time favorite salmon dishes.  It's beautiful, elegant and the flavors are in perfect balance. It's definitely a special occasion dish, but if you get some of the components prepared ahead it's easily accomplished. The Honey Red Onion Compote can be made several days ahead and rewarmed. You'll end up with more than you need for the recipe, but you're cooking it a long time, so I want you to have leftovers for pork chops, roast chicken or sandwiches. You can also freeze the compote for another time. The wine reduction for the Red Wine Beurre Rouge can be made ahead as well. Then you'll just need to reheat it, reduce it and whisk in the butter right before serving. Served with Spaetzle or Mother's Smashers surrounded by Sautéed Spinach, this was on the menu at Mother's for quite some time, and people loved it. 

Honey Red Onion Compote:
2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
4 cups sliced red onions (about 2 medium)
1 1/2 cups dry red wine (such as pinot noir or merlot)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 whole cloves 
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup honey

Red Wine Beurre Rouge:
1 ½ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small dice (divided)
1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, left whole
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 ¾ cup dry red wine (about ½ bottle), such as pinot noir, cabernet or zinfandel
1 3/4 cups ruby red port (about ½ bottle)
Bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 3 sprigs parsley)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salmon:
6 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, (about 2 ¼ pounds)
Vegetable oil (for oiling the fish and the grill)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (divided)
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)


To make the Honey Red Onion Compote:
1. Place a medium (3 ½ quart) saucepan over medium-high heat for several minutes. When hot, add 1½ tablespoons of the butter and the onions at the same time. Sauté until onions are softened but don't let them color (you may have to reduce the heat), about 12 minutes.

2. Add the wine, vinegar, cloves and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is mostly evaporated (about 45 minutes). (Be sure to lower heat to low as the liquid reduces to prevent scorching).

3. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and stir in the honey.  Cook for one minute then stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Keep warm if using right away, otherwise, refrigerate and reheat before serving.

To make the Red Wine Beurre Rouge:
1. Place a medium (3 ½-quart) non-reactive, saucepan over medium heat for several minutes. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of the butter, and the onion, celery, garlic and carrot. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes.

2. Add the wine, port and bouquet garni, stir to combine.

3. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower heat to medium, and simmer until liquid is reduced to almost ½ cup, about 1 hour. Stir occasionally and swirl the pot now and then, adjusting the heat if necessary to make sure bottom does not scorch.

4. When it looks like there's just about ½ cup liquid in the pan, remove it from the heat and strain the wine mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a very small (1 to 2-quart) saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the vegetables.

5. Set saucepan over medium-high heat and reduce mixture even more, almost to a syrup (about 2-3 tablespoons).  (Don't take your eyes off the pan; it can burn in a blink, and who can afford to lose a bottle of wine, much less an hour of time?)  Keep reduction in a warm spot (near the stove or on a pilot light), and proceed with grilling the fish.  (You'll add the butter to the sauce as soon as the fish is ready and about to be served). 

To make salmon:
1. Preheat the grill to medium (you should be able to hold your hand just above the grate for 3 seconds). Brush both sides of the salmon fillets with vegetable oil (or place vegetable oil in a shallow plate and dip salmon in oil) and season each fillet on one side with ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.

2. Brush the grill with vegetable oil.  Place salmon diagonally on the grill as if it's facing 10 o'clock (if skin is on, place it skin-side up).  After a few minutes, when it starts to look opaque, use a spatula to lift the salmon and turn it clockwise a quarter turn so it now faces 1 o'clock.  This will give a nice cross-hatch pattern on the fish.  Flip the salmon over and continue to grill until salmon is opaque throughout and flakes easily, about 8 minutes total (or until it registers 140 °F on an instant-read thermometer). Use a spatula to remove from heat (if the skin is on, you can slip the spatula between the flesh and the skin and leave the skin behind if you like).

To serve:
1. Just before serving, place the pan with the red wine reduction over the very lowest heat. When body temperature (test a little on your wrist; it should feel warm but not hot), whisk the remaining 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter into the reduction, one tablespoon at a time, being sure to incorporate each addition before adding more.  (You may need to take the pan on and off the heat if it looks like the butter is melting, not emulsifying). Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place salmon on plate and top with about 2 tablespoons of onion compote per fillet. Drizzle a thin ribbon of Red Wine Beurre Rouge (a little over a tablespoon per serving) around the fish on the plate. Store any leftover compote in the freezer. (Unfortunately, you won't be able reuse the beurre rouge; when reheated, the butter separates from the other ingredients and it looks like an oil slick, so serve it all.)