Salmon Red Wine Sauce

“Classic writers warn against using oily fish such as salmon to make fish sauces because they can make the sauce taste fishy. But when a salmon head, which releases an enormous amount of gelatin, is simmered with red wine, and the sauce reduced almost to a syrup before being finished with butter, the sauce is gloriously rich and complex. It is perfect for full-flavored seafood dishes.

To bring out the best flavor, the salmon head should be cooked with aromatic vegetables until it falls apart and leaves a brown crust attached to the pan. At this point wine is added and the sauce simmered to extract the flavor and gelatin from the head. The braising liquid is slowly reduced and skimmed of fat before being finished with chopped parsley, which adds a fresh note, and a dash of Cognac, which adds a spot of complexity. Butter is swirled in as a final finish.” ~ James Peterson

Makes 4 main course servings


8 tablespoons butter

1 salmon head, gills removed

1 small carrot, peeled, diced

1 small onion, peeled, chopped

1 bottle full-bodied dry red wine

1 bunch parsley

1 bouquet garni containing 10 sprigs of fresh thyme, a bay leaf, and stems from the bunch of parsley

1 tablespoon Cognac

1 teaspoon wine vinegar or more to taste

salt & pepper


Melt two tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed medium pot. Add the salmon head and the vegetables and stir, every few minutes, over medium to high heat, until the salmon head falls apart, about 20 minutes.