Wednesday, 12 January 2011 | Tags: , , ,

Whether you're grilling, poaching, baking or frying, salmon is a healthy and versatile seafood dish. We learn more about buying this popular fish and taste the difference between species, wild and farmed.

The Basics

  • Born in the coastal waters and interior rivers of British Columbia, Washington, and Alaska, wild salmon swim to the open Pacific Ocean to feed and mature, then return to their native waters to spawn.

  • The various species of salmon each have a distinct taste:

    • Chinook salmon (also known as king or spring) live 5-7 years, grow up to 3 feet long and are usually between 10-50 lbs (but can weigh up to 120 lbs). The back is blue-green or purple and lightly spotted, with silver sides. Fairly high in oil and very rich, the flesh ranges from ivory white to deep red and are prized by sport fishers.

    • Sockeye, the most valuable salmon, live 4-5 years, grow to 2 feet, and weigh up to 7 lbs. Its firm, flavourful, deep red flesh, his high in oil, so a good source of omega-3.

    • Coho live 3 years, grow up to 2 feet and weighs an average of 10-15 lbs. It’s a popular sport fish, especially for smoking, with its full flavour and fine-textured red flesh.

    • Chum, also referred to as calico, dog or keta salmon, live 3-5 years, grow to about 2 feet long and 10 lbs. The creamy pink to medium red flesh has a milder flavour and is low in saturated fat. Typically less expensive than the others.

    • Pink live only 2 years, grow to about 20 inches, and weigh up to 5 lbs. The most abundant of Pacific salmon, it has a delicate flavour with light pink flesh. Most are canned, and the rest is sold fresh or frozen.

  • The fat in salmon is the kind with good, omega 3-fatty acids, which are proven to reduce heart disease.

  • Salmon is high in protein and low in saturated fats and cholesterol – an overall very good food to eat.

  • Rather than buying salmon in pieces, buy one whole to save over 20% in cost. You can ask them to cut the head off at the fish market.

Wild, Wild-Caught, and Farmed Salmon

  • Most seafood markets designate salmon as being wild, wild-caught, or farmed. There is much debate of late as to whether the quality of each is equal in nutrition and flavour, and whether farmed salmon takes a toll on the environment.

  • Wild salmon are born in rivers, live in the ocean, and are caught by fishermen. They have a distinct, gamier flavour than farmed salmon. Wild salmon are 30% leaner than their farm-raised counterparts, and contain 20% more usable protein. Wild salmon also have more omega-3 fatty acids, which prevent heart disease, lower triglycerides, prevent certain cancers, and regulate insulin levels.

    • Pink, sockeye and chum are almost certainly wild.

    • The Copper River flows in the state of Alaska and is almost 300 miles in length. Salmon that originate in these pristine waters are challenged by its length and its strong, chill rapids. Consequently, Copper River salmon are strong, robust creatures with a healthy store of natural oils and body fat. These qualities make the salmon among the richest, tastiest fish in the world, and hence more expensive.

  • Farmed salmon began as an industry in the 1970s in an attempt to improve depleted wild salmon stocks. The salmon are raised in confined areas, without living any portion of their life in the wild. They may not be native to the area of the farm, and tend to have a blander flavour than wild salmon. As a general rule, most Atlantic salmon is farmed.

    • From both a nutritional and environmental impact perspective, many believe farmed salmon to be inferior to their wild counterparts.

    • Despite being much fattier, farmed fish provide less usable beneficial omega-3 fats than wild fish.

    • Due to the feedlot conditions of aqua-farming, farm-raised fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin.

    • Additionally, farmed salmon are sometimes given a salmon-colored dye in their feed, without which, their flesh would be an unappetizing grey colour.

    • Aqua-farming also raises a number of environmental concerns, the most important of which may be its negative impact on wild salmon. Some research shows evidence that sea lice from salmon farms can kill up to 95% of juvenile wild salmon that migrate past them.

  • Wild-caught salmon are a product of hatcheries, which produce large numbers of young salmon, called fry, then release them into streams and rivers. These salmon are species native to the area, and complete the remainder of their natural life cycle in the wild. Hatcheries were developed to help replenish salmon stocks depleted by over-fishing or environmental issues. Wild-caught salmon are genetically very similar to wild salmon.

Shopping Tips

  • When buying salmon, plan on approximately 6 ounces of raw salmon per serving.

  • The fresher the fish, the better the taste.

  • If buying a whole fish (which can save you up to 20% of the cost), make sure it’s completely packed on ice and that it doesn’t have too strong or fishy an odour.

    • Its eyes should be clear and shiny.

    • The gills should be bright and red.

    • Fins should be whole, not cracked.

  • Any cut should be firm to the touch. If you push on the skin, it should bounce back.Avoid any fish that is soft or mushy. Salmon with gaps or separations in the muscle fibres indicates that the fish is old – avoid these.

  • The price of salmon depends on availability and how much of a particular fish is running at the present time. Call your fish monger and ask when their salmon will be delivered. Knowing the schedule ahead of time means you can purchase the freshest fish and have your choice of the catch.

   Cuts of Salmon

  • Whole salmon: This includes the head and tail, although the organs have been removed for easy preparation and preservation. This cut is best for large groups, and for those who are comfortable making their own cuts. It can also save you up to 20% of the cost. A whole salmon can also be stuffed and makes for an impressive presentation.

  • Salmon fillets: The fillet cut is a section of the salmon that is separated from the ribs and backbone to produce two long portions of boneless meat. You can buy any size fillets you need, from a single-portion slice to an entire half of a fish. Fillets are good for delicate preparations such as poaching, steaming, pan-frying, curing, or smoking. Fillet portions are also often smoked and turned into lox.

  • Salmon steaks: The head and tail are removed and salmon is cut transversely through the backbone, producing portions about one inch thick. Salmon steaks are best for grilling.

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