By contributing writer Mary Cressler
I have friends in the restaurant industry who jokingly consider Valentine’s Day “amateur night ” because some folks will shell out a ridiculous amount of money for the special Valentine’s Day multi-course menu, getting suckered into paying a premium for dinner and wine and having to book reservations weeks or months in advance. I don’t consider it “amateur night” at all, but instead refer to it as “impossible to find a babysitter night.” We’re usually stuck at home, not by choice, but by necessity.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to enjoy a romantic dinner with my husband that night. We just enjoy it at home after the kids go to bed. Besides, even if I wanted to go out this year, I’d lose. That’s the night of the return of The Walking Dead – there’s no way I’d get my husband to miss that 😉
Kidding aside, who needs to go out to a restaurant to enjoy an overpriced multi-course romantic meal when you can make one at home for a fraction of the price! There’s no babysitter or reservations needed, and there’s no need to stress about being in the kitchen all day long either. Here’s a plan for a Valentine’s Day 3-course salmon dinner with wine at home.
Take some help from the store where you can get it, starting with the appetizers. I like to put together a simple yet gorgeous cheese and charcuterie plate (all store-bought). Most specialty grocery stores have great options for this. Chose 2 – 3 different kinds of cheese (I like a soft cheese, a hard cheese, and maybe a goat cheese).
Tip: Sometimes stores will have small end pieces that don’t make it into the display cases on sale in a discount basket. These are great portions for two people, and you can select several different kinds to taste without committing to a large piece.
I also like to add a couple different kinds of charcuterie such as salty Marcona almonds and something sweet like quince paste or fruit. Serve it all with baguette slices or crackers.
While visiting my folks in Arizona recently, I was inspired by a fantastic meal I had at Tarbell’s restaurant in central Phoenix. I’m usually not one to order salmon at a restaurant (it almost always comes out dry and boring!), but the server sold me when he said it was one of the few dishes that has remained on the menu in the over twenty years they’ve been in business! I’m so glad I did. It was one of the best salmon dishes I’ve had in years, and I had to try to recreate it at home.
They served the salmon with a fried potato cake and some simple greens. It was the texture of the salmon that most impressed me. They pan sear it on a high heat and then finish it in the oven with a sweet glaze that caramelizes under the broiler. This is a similar method to the way we like to cook salmon (as well as steak) at home. Not only is this meal full of incredible flavor, but it’s also easy to make.
One key to perfecting the salmon is to get your pan hot. Really hot! Season your salmon, and when you’re ready to cook, place it on the hot pan and let it sear skin side up (this is going to help it get a nice crust on the outside). After a few minutes, flip the salmon skin side down to crisp it up and then brush it with your glaze and put it in the oven under the broiler, just for a minute or two, to help caramelize the glaze. After you remove, add a bit more glaze to the top and you get a nice crusty exterior and tender delicate interior.
Although the first two courses are quite romantic on their own, you can’t have a Valentine’s dinner without dessert, right? For this course I also like to take some help from the store. I’m always indecisive when it comes to selecting a dessert at a restaurant (I want to try everything!). So the best part when you’re eating at home is that you can have everything. Just go to the dessert bar at your favorite specialty grocery store and pick out a selection of small bites.
Alternatively, you can make some of these homemade chocolate truffles the day before or morning of Valentine’s Day as a sweet treat. They’re rich and indulgent and full of sweet chocolate flavor.
- 1 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 2 russet potatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ tablespoon garlic powder
- ½ tablespoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- Juice of half an orange
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ pound salmon filet
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil or butter
- Shred the potatoes with a cheese grater and then soak for 10 minutes in salted water. Remove from water and place on a towel. Wrap the towel around the shredded potato and squeeze to remove as much excess moisture as you can.
- Place potatoes on a paper towel to continue to dry. Or, if you do this in advance, place them on a sheet pan lined with paper towel and put it in the fridge. Salt and pepper the potatoes.
- While the salmon is cooking, preheat a large skillet to medium-high heat.
- Place 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter in pan and then two handfuls of the shredded potato onto the skillet. Press them down to form a pancake shape.
- Flip the potato cake after about 7 minutes or until you get a nice golden brown color and repeat on other side.
- Set potato cakes onto serving plate.
- In separate bowls, combine all the rub ingredients and all the glaze ingredients. Preheat an oven-safe pan (I like cast iron) to medium-high to high heat and preheat broiler to high.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the salmon into two equal pieces lengthwise. Sprinkle the dry rub over the salmon liberally.
- Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter in the pan and place salmon, skin side up, into the pan. Let it sear in the pan for up to five minutes. You know it’s ready to flip when it doesn’t stick to the pan. Flip and then cook for another two to three minutes skin side down.
- Pour a few tablespoons of glaze over the salmon and place under the broiler on top shelf for about two minutes. You’ll see the sugar and glaze start to bubble or caramelize. That is a good thing. Watch this step closely so the glaze doesn’t burn.
- Remove from oven and plate the salmon over the potato cake. Place an additional drizzle of the glaze over the top.
For the rub: This will yield extra dry rub. Keep any leftovers and use it later on chicken or pork.
For the glaze: You can also add a tablespoon or so of your favorite marmalade or jam to the glaze for additional sweetness and thickness.
Since you’re saving money by enjoying your Valentine’s date night at home and won’t be paying a restaurant markup on your wine, you can splurge a little on your favorite bottles.
For the first course, you can start with a bottle of sparkling or your favorite rosé. Both of these styles of wine will stand up nicely to the bold flavored charcuterie and diverse styles of cheese.
For the salmon, I recommend something that can balance the delicate flavors and textures of the salmon meat with the sweet, spicy, and savory flavors of the glaze. My favorite for this recipe is a light to medium-bodied fruity New World style wine like Pinot Noir.
The Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from California (around $30) is a nice option, so is the Argyle Pinot Noir from Oregon (around $25). They both have great balance of fruit, spice, and richness to match the flavors found in the dish. While you’re at the store shopping for your ingredients, just open up your Wine4.Me app and search Pinot Noir. Then filter by your favorite region and explore what your store has to offer!
This is truly a romantic (and easy!) three-course date night meal with wine that you can enjoy at home.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners. She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.