Salmon and Sonoma County Fresh Asparagus

Grilled Salmon with Asparagus from KJ Chef Justin Wangler

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Salmon and Sonoma County Fresh Asparagus

When I moved into my Sebastopol home a number of years ago, I noticed some feathery plants in the yard. In the spring, they shot up with stalks, and joy of joy, I realized I was the proud owner of asparagus.

So far, I haven't been able to kill my pretty plants, either (my gardening skills are not the best) — in fact, I've seen the stalks shoot up to seven inches per day in good weather.

They are hardy growers, with the species dating back to Egypt circa 3000 BC, and with Emperor Augustus even hauling the vegetable on his "Asparagus Fleet." A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius's third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.

For our Wine Country recipe, we went a bit more modern, however. We turned to chef Justin Wangler, the culinary talent at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens in Santa Rosa. His restaurant, Partake by KJ in Healdsburg, showcases seasonal flavors like the beloved asparagus. 

And perhaps most impressive, the chef offers wine pairings with the vegetable, often considered a challenge because of its vegetal, chlorophyll-driven green flavor and acids that can make a lot of wine taste metallic and harsh.

Yet Wangler incorporates calming fats from locally-sourced meaty salmon, and a rich, silky Béarnaise sauce. In his hands, the gorgeous character of asparagus is celebrated, cultivated, and shines through.

Local Salmon and Sonoma County Fresh Asparagus

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 8


8 (6 oz.) salmon fillets, skin and bones removed
40 asparagus spears
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Béarnaise aioli (yields 1½ cups)
8 black peppercorns, crushed
14 sprigs fresh tarragon (6 whole sprigs + 8 sprigs chopped)
2 shallots, minced
¼ C. tarragon vinegar
¼ C. Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay
2 egg yolks
¼ cup olive oil
1 C. rice oil
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
8 sprigs chervil
Kosher salt
Tabasco sauce


Preheat grill to high heat and brush with oil.

Separately, rub salmon and asparagus spears liberally with olive oil and season with salt. Place salmon on grill serving-side down and cook approximately 5 minutes before flipping over. (Most types of fish cook uniformly at ten minutes per inch of thickness. Salmon should be slightly rare in the middle to allow the wonderful richness of the Omega-3 fats to come through).

Grill asparagus for 2 minutes on each side or until tender.

To serve: Place 5 spears of asparagus in the center of each plate. Top with béarnaise aioli and salmon.

For the Béarnaise Aioli (yields 1½ cups):

Tie the peppercorns and 6 sprigs of tarragon in cheesecloth. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, simmer with the shallots, vinegar and wine until the liquid has been reduced by about 90 percent. Allow the béarnaise reduction to cool. 

Place egg yolks in the bowl of a food processor. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and rice oil until it becomes thick. (If you don't feel comfortable using raw egg yolks or would like to save a little time, 1¼ cups mayonnaise may be substituted for the egg yolk and oil mixture). Remove mixture from food processor, place in a bowl and fold in the lemon juice, béarnaise reduction, chopped tarragon and chervil. Season to taste with salt and Tabasco. Refrigerate until ready to use or up to 4 days.

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Carey Sweet