Judy Rodgers: Her Philosophy, Restaurant and Recipe for Salmon with White Beans, Bacon and Red Wine

6 Dec

Judy Rodgers, 1956-2013

Raw ingredients trump recipes every time; farmers and ranchers who coax the best from the earth can make any of us appear to be a great cook. JR

Twenty years ago, having recently arrived in San Francisco and feeling the financial sting of a first and last months’ rent and security deposit, the plan was made that as soon as the checkbook took a rest, we’d dine at Zuni Café because that was THE place to get a taste of the iconic California cuisine that in part fueled the pull westward. This was my kind of eating. Food that didn’t stretch too deep to the side of unusual but was far from typical and showcased the fresh ingredients that California is known for.

I’d rather pay the premium for a low-yield but delicious variety of melon or berry in peak season than to swallow the cost of waxing apples or gassing strawberries just so they conform to an ideal market standard at any time of year, and any distance from the garden. JR

I went so far as to splurge on the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, considering Judy Rodgers’ cooking style approachable and replicable, simple yet sophisticated. Sure some of it was beyond what I could handle with minimal cooking implements and a small culinary budget. And I’d be skipping the recipes calling for duck fat, braised oxtails and chicken livers. But I liked that she challenged readers to attempt what might feel inconvenient. And where else could you find, in understandable terms, the science behind a fluffy omelet with clear direction on just how to go about cleverly trapping air in your eggs? The recipes can be long, but for the purpose of providing clear instruction, not complication.

Don’t chart every turn  before going to the market, and don’t feel you must follow a recipe slavishly. JR

Judy Rodgers, chef and owner of Zuni Cafe, passed away this week. She was a powerful force in the development of California cuisine and the local, farm to table ethos. She was the real deal.

I rediscover daily that the best dishes are the result of honoring the ingredients, continually tasting, and heeding not just the season, but also the weather outside, which has an immeasurable effect on how well a dish works. JR

Given the arrival of cold weather in the Bay Area, well timed for holiday pursuits, here is the first recipe I made from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and remade this week in her honor. It’s healthy, hearty and delicious.

Salmon with White Beans, Bacon and Red Wine

Serves: 4View or Print Recipe Only


  • 2 cups cooked flageolets, cooking liquid reserved (or canned. See link here for information on cooking and substitutes.)
  • 4 six-ounce salmon filets, skin removed, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 1/3 cups medium-bodied red wine such as sangiovese, pinot noir or light merlot
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 3 ounces thickly sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch strips (3-4 slices)
  • About 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced and chilled
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onions
  • A few sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf


  1. Prepare beans unless using canned.
  2. Season the salmon evenly with kosher salt, several hours ahead if possible. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
  3. Place the wine in a small saucepan and reduce to about 1/3 cup, about 7-10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat.
  4. Place the bacon in a 12- to 14-inch ovenproof skillet and lightly heat slightly and pour off all but a film of the fat.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter, the carrots, celery, onions and 1 sprig of the thyme. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.
  6. Add the beans, about 1 cup of the red wine-stock mixture, the bay leaf, another sprig of thyme, and 3 tablespoons of the butter.
  7. Raise the heat to medium and swirl as the liquid comes to a simmer.
  8. Reduce heat to low, add salmon and swirl and tilt pan to baste the top of fish. Make sure no beans, bacon or bits of vegetables are perched on top of the fish where they could burn.
  9. Place pan under the broiler. Cook for 6 or 7 minutes, (a minute or two less, if salmon is thinner). Salmon should be still rare and the surface of the dish should be sizzling and beginning to color. If too rare, turn oven down to 500 and let the salmon cook a minute or two more. If you need more sauce add the last splash of the red wine-stock mixture and a bit more chicken stock.
  10. Correct the salt.

Adapted from: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Click title to purchase: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant

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