This was the first thing I cooked after my recent trip to California. It was loosely inspired by a sandwich I had for lunch at Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles — a magnificent creation of cold smoked salmon, avocado, sriracha aioli, quick-pickled red onion and sunflower sprouts layered between slices of toasted rye bread. Here’s a quick pic I snapped before digging in:
Thomas Hill Organics is one of those restaurants that, within about 2 minutes, has me wishing it were in my city. I would be there a lot, working my way through the inventive menu of carefully-chosen ingredients and delicious dishes. I will not soon forget the improbably compelling lentil tacos, served open-face with carrot puree, candied jalapeños, pickled watermelon, and a toasted coconut and cashew dukkah. (Seriously.) And if I had been there one more day, I had my eye on the roasted kobacha soup with coconut and lemongrass…
Anyway, the salmon-on-rye combination required a prompt revisit, and the quick lemon-shallot relish I stirred together stood in for the pickled onions, while the slather of goat cheese added creamy tang in place of the sriracha aioli and avocado. The goat cheese substitution happened mostly because I already had some on hand (often the basis for my ingredient decisions, to be honest), and it happens to be one of my all-time favorites: the “Perfectly Plain” from Blue Heron Farm. I love Blue Heron’s story, as well as how they seem to treat their goats the way many of us treat our pets — they regularly appear on Facebook, by name, with personality-filled anecdotes and updates.
And the lemon-shallot relish could not be much easier. It would be a bright, flavorful garnish to virtually any kind of fish or shellfish, from raw oysters to grilled halibut and all points between. And it would be a delicious topping for a one of these Unda-Style Quesadillas, maybe along with a dollop of crème fraiche.
I paired these with a line-up of Rieslings, including the Blue Fish you see in the picture. There were different styles, from bone dry to definitely off-dry, but they were all a good match. I think the main reason was that the mouthwatering, bright acidity of the wine cut right through that oily richness of smoked salmon, cleansing the palate nicely. And the characteristic citrus and mineral accents of the wine were also lovely compliments to the flavors of the dish. (And can I just say that Riesling remains the best wine value around, particularly the German versions, but these Chateau Ste. Michelle bottles are also a steal!)
Blue Fish 2011 Riesling Germany ($10). A tasty, everyday Riesling. Off-dry, with juicy peach and pineapple that narrows into a crisp finish. Find it!
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Riesling Columbia Valley Dry ($9). Lipsmacking intensity on a bone-dry frame — ripe pear, lemon, lemon and more lemon, crisp finish. Nice bang for the buck! Find it!
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Riesling Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyard ($15). More than a little off-dry, but really pretty and bright. Asian pear, tangerine, soft mineral notes. Long finish. Find it!
Ansgar Clüsserath 2011 Riesling Mosel Vom Schiefer Trocken ($17). Dry, crisp, loads of slate notes accenting white peach and citrus. Classic aromas. Delicious. Great deal on a very good wine. Find it!
Balthasar Ress 2011 Riesling Kabinett Rheingau Hattenheimer Schützenhaus ($17). Loved this for its pure, clean, vibrance. White peach, elegant citrus, light herbal and mineral notes that linger on finish. Demands food! Very nice. Find it!
Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler 2011 Riesling Kabinett Mosel Wehlener Sonnenuhr ($26). An absolute knockout of a wine. Full, ripe fruit — tangy citrus, white peach, lime curd — with a pure, everlasting finish. Gorgeous. Find it!
Recipe: Smoked Salmon with Lemon-Shallot Relish
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
goat cheese, softened
thin slices of rye bread, drizzled with olive oil and toasted on both sides
Make relish by combining the olive oil, shallots, chives, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir together, season lightly with salt and pepper.
Spread toasts with a smear of goat cheese, top with slices of smoked salmon, and top with small spoonfuls of lemon-shallot relish. (Recipe makes about 1/2 cup relish.)