One of my foodie dreams is to go salmon fishing and have a freezer full of my own catch. Shortly before we moved to Napa Valley, they closed down salmon fishing due to rivers being so low. Six years later just before moving back to Texas, they opened it back up but we were in full-out packing and moving mode so I still haven’t fulfilled that dream yet. However another smaller foodie dream was realized before we moved back to Texas. This Grilled Salmon with Summer Succotash came out of that realized dream and is perfect for this season when fresh,Wild Salmon is prolific. Before you get to the recipe, though, you will find lots of wine recommendations and a thorough review of what turned out to be one of our favorite places.
When we lived in St. Helena, the crown jewel of the Valley, we were living on a starving artist’s budget. We always drove by fabulous restaurants with the hope that one day we could actually patronize them. Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustards Grill was one of those. The garden planted next door was immaculate and since farm-to-table is my preferred restaurant concept, I had a feeling I would really enjoy the experience. We finally had the chance to go, even though it was after we moved out of the valley, but it met every expectation and then some.
On a summer evening shortly before we moved back to Texas in 2013, our chef friend Leonard, a chef at Mustard’s at the time and now at the exclusive Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara, and his wife Elise, invited us to join them and other friends, Ned and Holly.
Kyle and I were more than happy to oblige and brought a fantastic bottle of wine as a “Thank You”.
Dining with a chef has its advantages which came in the form of Smoked Sticky Vietnamese Chicken Wings with Cucmber Raita and Peanut Sauce.
Oh, and see the bread back there in the back …I usually avoid bread entirely unless it’s really good. But with the just-right sourdough flavor, individual ramekins of butter and coarse sea salt, I had to actually tell my husband I would eat no more to remain accountable and to avoid eating an entire loaf.
My vegetarian friend, Holly, got to enjoy the sweet corn tamales as her meat-free complimentary appetizer. As an omnivore, I got to enjoy a little of hers, the bread AND a little of the wings with the waiter’s wine recommendation, a Gruner Veltliner. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be on the current wine list and I didn’t snap a pic of the label so I don’t actually know the name. It was the perfect mate for the sticky-sweet heat of the wings and the tomatillo salsa on the tamales. Gruners as a whole are good friends with heat so look for them!
Anyway, in case you’re wondering how all this ties in with the featured photo of salmon above, my chalkboard menu dinner choice was the inspiration for this recipe. Wild Salmon is a treat so as soon as I saw that as a daily option, it was as good as mine. Accompanied by a butter-sauced saute of first-of-the- season corn and tomatoes and end-of-the-season English peas, I couldn’t resist.
Remaining orders at the table were Chalkboard pasta of the day (Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu below), Lemon & Garlic Chicken (no pic), Hangar steak (no pic) and this ridiculously amazing, totally off-the-menu vegetarian pasta made at the chef’s whim with porcini mushrooms and a white wine cream sauce. YUM!
Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu
Porcini Mushroom Pasta
As good as the salmon was, the chef’s creation of the Porcini Pasta was so flavorful, it made me decide I might have to claim I’m a vegetarian next time I dine at this meat-heavy restaurant.
A gift from a good friend and fellow oenophile, the wine we brought, Continuum, had sat in our “cellar” (by this I mean a rack in our inner most closet in the house…one of these days there will be an actual cellar!! ) for awhile until we had the right reason to pull it out. This night was the night and considering it paired perfectly with everything from the salmon to the steak, I’m glad we did.
The Lemon-Lime tart
Warm Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Tart with Espresso Ice Cream,
A not-pictured Strawberry Rhubarb (chalkboard special) Cobbler helped us wind down a spectacular dinner before heading off to Uncorked at the Oxbow Market in Napa for a little port nightcap and cigars for the men.
Mustards Grill lived up to the hype. There are so many amazing places to dine in Napa Valley, but considering Cindy’s heart for the people who truly do the hard work in the valley, I really love supporting her restaurants especially. (For other Pawlcyn choices go to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena…around the corner from our former home…or to Waterfront in Monterey if you happen to be there.)
So here’s my version of the salmon dish that we had that night.
Grilled Sockeye Salmon with Summer Succotash
The succotash is actually a combination of what I had at Mustards and the Shaved Fennel and English Pea Salad inspired by Cafe LaHaye in Sonoma. The greens on top are simply sauteed with sliced garlic and olive oil. Use spinach or whatever other greens are in season or leave them off and garnish with a few extra basil leaves.
extra virgin olive oil
4 ears of corn, cut off the cob
1 head fennel, cored and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small red onion, chopped
juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided use
1 cup of fresh or frozen English Peas
4 5-6 oz sockeye salmon fillets
sea salt & pepper or dry seasoning of choice
a handful of tiny heirloom tomatoes or quartered regular cherry tomatoes
a handful of basil leaves
flaky sea salt or grey salt for sprinkling
- In a large skillet, heat a little olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter until the butter just melts then add the corn and fennel and 1/4 cup water. Let cook until the fennel softens slightly then add the garlic and red onion. Saute until everything is cooked and softened but not browning at all. (Add a little more water if necessary.) Add the lemon juice and remaining butter along with the English peas. Turn off the heat and swirl the skillet until the peas are heated through and the butter melts evenly. It should not break at all with the heat off and will actually form a creamy sauce around the veggies. Set aside while cooking salmon.
- Sprinkle the salmon fillets with sea salt and pepper or your favorite dry seasoning. Grill over high heat starting with the flesh side first then finish with the skin side so it will be crispy. The inside should still be very pink and slightly gelatinous looking for rare or light pink all the way through for well-done salmon.
- Just before serving stir the tomatoes and basil into the veggie saute reserving some of the sauce. Divide among four plates, then top with a salmon fillet and drizzle with the butter sauce to give it a sheen.