What Is Salmon?
Salmon are saltwater fish that are mostly native to the waters of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and California. They swim through estuaries and upstream into freshwater to reproduce, making them relatively unique among commercially harvested fish. Salmon is great for a variety of preparations, including poaching, grilling, roasting, broiling, smoking, or pickling. You’ll find them in salads and tartare, burgers and pasta dishes.
Salmon might just be the fish for people who say they don’t like fish. It doesn’t taste like any other fish, that’s for sure. It’s rich, it’s meaty, and it’s satisfying enough that it might just pry people away from their chicken-beef-pork routine.
After all, the conventional wisdom is that a lot of things that are good for you don’t always taste very good. But if you’ve ever had a simple, properly cooked piece of fresh, wild salmon, you know that’s just not true.
Packed with rich omega-3 fatty acids and a strong umami flavor, this is one of the few types of fish out there that can actually stand up to a red wine pairing. And, if you’ve ever had the eggs raw (known as “ikura” in Japanese restaurants), you know just how much flavor and sheer briny juiciness is packed into those morsels of protein.
But once you’ve made up your mind, how do you go about choosing the right kind of salmon? There are so many choices, it’s all a bit overwhelming at first. Farmed or wild? Well, that depends on several different factors, some more important to people than others, such as where the fish came from and whether you’re willing to spend more.
As far as concerns about the environment go, The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommends wild-caught salmon from Alaska as a “Best Choice” for its excellent management of wild fish stocks. A good alternative would be those caught in the Pacific Northwest.
But to avoid painting with a broad brush, contrary to popular belief, not all farmed salmon is outright bad for the environment. Only those raised in floating pens in the ocean earn an “Avoid” rating, since there are often issues with fish escaping, and also a lack of waste management. Salmon from inland farms may be a better choice since they often have a better track record of dealing with these issues.
Atlantic or Pacific? As far as different varieties of salmon, you’ll most likely find king, coho, and sockeye salmon fresh from spring through fall when they’re in season, and frozen otherwise. These Pacific varieties generally have flesh ranging in color from deep orange to bright red. King is the most prized because of its high fat content and soft flesh. Coho and sockeye tend to have firmer flesh. Atlantic salmon, whose flesh is pinker in color, is generally farmed since wild stocks have been impacted severely by water pollution.
And lastly, fresh or frozen? In the dead of winter, you might be faced with a choice between frozen, wild salmon from the Pacific or fresh, farmed Atlantic salmon. Truthfully, that’s a tough call, and probably just a matter of preference. Either way, you’re in for a quick, easy, and flavorful meal.