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Vacation in a Bowl (Salmon Pasta with Beer Blanc Sauce)

This week Colorado experienced a rare phenomena, days of rain. Unheard of! For those acquainted with the Pacific Northwest, try not to scoff. There are flash floods and you can almost hear the ground groaning with the sheer volume of water. Between our landlocked geography and our 300+ days of sunshine, a point of state pride, all this water is something new. (A brief aside, when my Colorado native mother took my Chicago-born father to see a mountain “river” he was bemused by the trickling stream that came into view.)

I love the water. A ten day Alaskan cruise earlier this summer was a perfect vacation. The weather was a lovely balance of warm sun and damp grey, with cold evening rain perfect for sipping a warming beverage. We were about a week too early for prime salmon season but even the rich, oily fillets, smoked and curled inside a can were magnificent.

We ate well. Not just on the cruise ship, but in the towns staggered along the coast. The meals at the waterfront restaurants and local brew pubs were impressive, hearty but not too rich and fresh but indulgent. One of the best meals was a salad that featured a mound of smoked salmon atop the fresh greens. That simplicity allowed the distinctive flavors to shine.

This inspiration has been percolating for the past three months. You see, I picked up a few cans of indescribably good Alaskan smoked salmon from a local shop along the coast. I also, naturally, had to come home with some Alaskan craft beer. One of the best beers I had was a seasonal from Skagway Brewing Company, which unfortunately doesn’t can their beers. I was also impressed with the offerings from Midnight Sun Brewing Company and brought home a few of their beers. The Snowshoe White has been chilling in the fridge (ok, who are we kidding, I left one in there and enjoyed the other.) I love Belgian-style Wit beer and wanted to create some sort of sauce with it. That idea slowly morphed into the idea of creating a beurre blanc (really not much more than wine, shallots, acid, and butter) with a wit beer rather than white wine.

The acidic bite of the sauce is a lovely accent to the sweet, rich salmon. I enjoyed this with a side salad of fresh herb greens dressed only with oil, vinegar, and pepper. Yes, it is a rich pasta dish but it is intended to evoke a tiny, brief vacation from the day. Enjoy it with good company and a witbier or kolsch.

Salmon Pasta Beer Blanc

Ingredients for Beer Blanc Sauce:
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme
12 oz white ale or witbier
1 1/2 sticks of butter, chilled (3/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon dried Herbs de Provence

Ingredients for Salmon Pasta:
6 ounces dried mini shell pasta
1/3 cup peas
6 ounces smoked salmon, flaked
1 lemon, juiced
Black pepper and salt, to taste

Directions for Beer Blanc Sauce:

In a saucepan, combine shallots, vinegar, thyme, and beer. Heat over medium and let reduce. The liquid should reduce by 1/2 to 2/3, leaving you with just over 1/2 cup. This will take 30-45 minutes, stir occasionally. While liquid is reducing, cook pasta. Once liquid is reduced, remove from heat. Let cool slightly so that the liquid is warm but not hot to the touch. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. (I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a process, but well worth the results.) You will need to reheat the mixture slightly (use low heat) after every 3-6 tablespoons. Once all butter has been melted, stir in Herbs de Provence.

Directions for Salmon Pasta:
In salted, boiling water cook shells according to directions. Don’t overlook the pasta, it should be al dente. Combine peas and lemon juice. In a medium sized bowl, combine pasta, peas & lemon juice, salmon, and beer blanc sauce. Top with cracked black pepper and sea salt. Serve warm.

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