Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Better Than It Sounds

In what has to be one of the best “left-handed compliments” in history, Mark Twain once described Wagner’s music as “better than it sounds.” The dish I describe here – pasta with vodka sauce and smoked salmon – may fall into the same category. I lived in Finland for about a year and one of the hotel restaurants in Tampere served a dish very much like the one given below, and I thought it was delicious. But then, I also thought the poisonous mushroom I had there was delicious, too (more about that next time). When I suggested the smoked salmon vodka sauce to my wife, she thought it sounded awful, so I prepared it one night when she was out. Collecting the ingredients for it generated a lot of questioning looks, so it seems clear that the combination is not something everybody would think of. Personally, I thought it was great when I had it in Finland, and I think the following recipe is not a bad approximation of the Finnish version, if I do say so myself.


• ½ lb. smoked salmon, skin removed

• 1 largish cipollini onion, diced

• 4 cloves garlic, chopped

• 1 Tbs. capers

• 1 26 oz. jar of vodka pasta sauce

• 1 lb. fresh linguine


1. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent.

2. Flake smoked salmon into small pieces and stir into the garlic and onion mixture. Add the capers and sauté long enough to heat through.

3. Add the vodka sauce, reduce heat, and simmer while preparing the pasta.

4. Bring salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until done (al dente), about three minutes.

5. Serve pasta on a plate and top with the smoked salmon vodka sauce.

The first time I prepared this, I had it with a Rosenblum Cellars 2008 Viognier, recommended by my favorite local wine store. As an alternative, they also recommended serving it with a nice Scotch whiskey, consistent with the recommendation of “smoked fish” with Scotch given by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page in What to Drink with What You Eat. The second time I had the dish, I tried it with a 10 year old Wolfe’s Glen single grain Highland Scotch, and I must say it was very good. For me, though, good as it is, a little Scotch goes a long way, so on the whole I would have to say I prefer it with the wine.

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