Wine & Food Killers: Confit Salmon with Citrus Herb Salad and Camillo Donati Malvasia Secco Pet Nat 2018

This Thanksgiving, I roasted a chicken instead of a turkey. I reduced the myriad sides down to two dishes – crunchy, golden roast potatoes and green beans with shallots and pistachios. In lieu of the classic dessert spread, I made one single pumpkin pie for the two of us, which we shared over the course of days. And I was much happier for it. 

2020 is forcing us to celebrate our holidays differently, to downsize and to cut back. There is much to mourn in that, much painful loss to try to digest. But there's a small culinary upside in it, too. By breaking out of the strictures of tradition, we can make what we actually want to eat, what we actually enjoy, to avoid wastefulness. Turkey is famously polarising, so why not do Thanksgiving lasagne and steaks instead? Why not swap out your Christmas main for a big pot of biryani? Why not use this as an opportunity to do things differently?

If you’re looking for satisfying simplicity this holiday season – and a main course that’s more affordable, more flexible and less stressful than usual – this salmon makes a delightful option. It's lightly cured in the fridge before cooking, which imparts flavour and draws out excess moisture. Then it confits in a bath of simmering fat until it's just cooked-through, meltingly soft and unctuous.

It's an impressive looking and tasting dish – that big coral tranche of fish in its golden bath, garnished with vivid green herbs and paired with zesty blood oranges and lemons – but whoever you're feasting with doesn't have to know it only took you an hour or so to throw together, oven time included. And it would go splendidly with a wide range of side dishes (like these tahini butter sweet potatoes, which I can confirm are delicious alongside).

It also goes splendidly with sparkling wine. In the spirit of remaking traditions, skip the fussy Champagne this year and go for the beguiling Camillo Donati Malvasia Secco Pet Nat 2018 instead. I have a bit of a crush on this zippy Italian sparkler, which I first tasted when my partner gifted it to me for my birthday last month. It's fresh and citric, with ample notes of orange that match the salmon’s flavour profile.

As it warms in the hand, notes of sticky, cooked-down pineapple come to the fore. The wine’s bright acidity and carbonation make it an ideal contrast to the richness of the salmon – and it's got enough personality to feel like a festive treat all on its own.

Confit Salmon with Citrus Herb Salad
Adapted from New York Times Cooking
Serves 4-6

For the confit salmon:
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper, plus additional to taste
1 lemon
1 blood orange or small ruby grapefruit
1 800g skinless salmon fillet
5-6 sprigs thyme
Flaky sea salt, to taste
500ml (or more) olive oil

For the herb salad:
Large handful flat-leaf parsley
Large handful basil
Large handful dill
Large handful tarragon
Flaky sea salt, to taste
Juice of half a lemon

1. First, lightly cure your salmon. In a ramekin or small bowl, mix together the coarse sea salt, sugar, pepper and the zest of a lemon and a blood orange. Coat evenly on both sides of your salmon and place in a Pyrex roasting dish that's just big enough to accommodate the fillet. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30-40 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 150° Celsius (300° Fahrenheit). After the salmon has lightly cured, remove from the fridge. Wash the curing mixture off the fillet and pat to dry. Wipe out the roasting dish.

3. Thinly slice the lemon and blood orange and arrange the slices in a single layer in the roasting dish, along with the thyme sprigs. Season the salmon fillet on both sides with flaky sea salt and place on top of the citrus. Pour over the olive oil until the fish is just covered (you may need more than 500ml depending on the size of your roasting dish).

4. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the salmon is just turning opaque. As it confits, prepare your herb salad: roughly chop the fresh herbs and add to a medium bowl. Season generously with flaky sea salt and toss to mix. Just before serving, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon.

5. When the salmon is done, remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. Using a large spatula, gently transfer the fillet to a cutting board, letting any excess oil drip off. Cut the salmon into your desired number of portions and divide between plates. Serve alongside one or two citrus slices as well as the herb salad.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription box.