NAC Recipe: Roast Salmon w/Sweet & Sour Onion Confit, served w/Sauteed Spinach & Deep-Fried Polenta Croutons

March 04 2010

by Christopher Israel
Suggested Pairing: King Estate Pinot Gris
From King Estate’s New American Cuisine Pinot Gris Cookbook (1995)

Christopher Israel Executive Chef @ 23Hoyt & Saucebox

Serves 4

This is a Venetian-inspired dish of salmon with sweet and sour onions, raisins and pine nuts. While traditionally done with sole that has been marinated overnight, then fried, we like the sweet and sour flavors with the rich taste of the salmon. It is a perfect foil for Pinot Gris. The spinach and polenta round out this dish for an elegant meal. Make the polenta the night before and this dish is put together in less than an hour.


  • 4 6-ounce salmon filets
  • Olive oil for coating salmon and sautéing polenta and spinach
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound cleaned spinach leaves
  • Sweet and Sour Onion Confit (recipe follows)
  • Polenta Croutons (recipe follows)

Sweet and Sour Onion Confit :

  • 2 large yellow onions
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 12 or so black peppercorns
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (for garnish)

Sauté onions in butter and oil over medium heat until wilted, soft and slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the pine nuts and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and keep warm. Taste again for salt and pepper.

Polenta Croutons:

  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir the cold water and polenta together. Cook over medium low heat, stirring every few minutes to prevent sticking, until it is thick, smooth and no longer tastes raw or grainy. This will take 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in butter and Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Spoon the hot mixture into a well buttered loaf pan and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To make croutons, unmold polenta, cut into 1″ slices, then cut each slice into squares.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Lightly oil, salt and pepper the salmon and roast until done, approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile fry the polenta croutons in olive oil until golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Sauté the spinach in olive oil with a little salt and pepper until just wilted. Set aside covered until ready to use. When the salmon is done, remove from oven.

To assemble:

Divide the spinach among four dinner plates, placing it in the center. Put a salmon filet on top of the spinach and spoon some Sweet and Sour Onion Confit over the fish. Place 3 polenta croutons on each plate and garnish the dish with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts on top of the onion mixture.

Suggestions for starting this meal are chilled oysters on the half shell, chilled asparagus with lemon aïoli and capers, prosciutto with figs or melon, or a simple salad of arugula and radicchio with balsamic vinaigrette. For dessert Christopher recommends a chocolate-hazelnut semifreddo or a pear tart with vanilla ice cream.


The biography below is exactly as it appeared in our Pinot Gris cookbook in 1995. Christopher Israel now operates a restaurant called Gruner in SW Portland.

Christopher IsraelChristopher Israel

of Zefiro in Portland, OR

Like many of our contributing chefs, Christopher Israel’s interest in food began at home. He grew up in a large family in San Diego and was inspired by his mother’s passion for cooking. During and after his studies toward a B.A. in art history at Berkeley, he worked in various Bay Area restaurants, usually as a host or server. It was as the host at Square One in San Francisco that he met Joyce Goldstein, who was to become a friend and important mentor. In the four years he worked there he learned to appreciate her pan-Mediterranean approach to food, which includes the flavors of North Africa, the Middle East, Greece, and Turkey, as well those of the European coast. Christopher drew on this influence, plus his belief in simple but meticulous preparation, when he opened Zefiro in 1990 with partner Bruce Carey.

Zefiro is a stylish restaurant–a combination of Mediterranean simplicity and high design. The amber stucco walls are adorned with just a few black and white photographs. Heavy gold velvet drapes hang by the entry and behind the banquettes, reminding one of a Venetian palazzo but functioning as baffles for the lively ambiance. A copper-covered bar, flower arrangements perched on columns and ledges, and large wire urns filled with seasonal fruit add color and light.

In its first year of operation, Zefiro was named Restaurant of the Year by The Oregonian and given four stars in Northwest Best Places. It has also been featured in Gourmet, The New York Times and The Atlantic and received the top ranking in the Zagat Survey and the 1995 DiRoNa award.

Recent ventures include Zero, a tiny space dedicated to exquisite ice creams and sorbets, breakfast pastries and rustic breads and Sauce Box, a hip downtown spot for contemporary music and tasty bar food.