Last week I looked at alternatives to farmed salmon. Sure, it’s often nice to substitute a farm-safe fish for salmon, which doesn’t fare well in net pens, but this isn’t an everyday solution. People love salmon. They certainly aren’t going to stop ordering it. This is why salmon was chosen by aquaculturists to begin with–it was popular and fetched a pretty price at market.
If we are to wild eat salmon, we need look no farther than the fisheries of Alaska. Wild Alaska salmon, though it can be expensive, is both responsibly fished and the best tasting salmon around. Alaska strictly controls its fisheries, which are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable and well managed.
Salmon season runs from mid-April to late-October. However, good salmon can be had out of season. If flash-frozen and handled properly, frozen wild salmon can taste as good as fresh. (This is because fresh wild salmon, especially species other than king, can be mishandled in the shipping process.)
Anyway, here are profiles of five species of wild Alaskan salmon:
King. The largest salmon, king (also called chinook) is also the most sought-after and expensive. This is because it is the fattiest. As expected, king salmon’s fat gives it a buttery flavor, a wonderful oiliness, and a silky texture, which has been likened to that of smoked salmon. King’s flesh ranges from white to red. Aside from its price tag, the downside to king is that it isn’t always available.
Coho. Similar to king but available later in the season, coho (also called silver) has largely been replaced by king. In the past, coho stocks were overfished and king took over.The two species have a similar taste, though Coho is milder. It isn’t quite as expensive as king.
Chum. Similar to pink, chum (also called dogs, because of its canine-like teeth) is usually canned or smoked. Its dry flesh smokes well. Chum’s low fat content makes it less appealing to cook than other salmon species. Though, Chum possess the most prized roe of any salmon. Chum is also the most widely distributed salmon, swimming in waters from California to Korea.
Pink. Another fish usually canned or smoked, pink (also called hump) is the most abundant of the salmon species. It also has the lowest fat content. Pink swims to the sea shortly after hatching. It doesn’t spend its early years in freshwater like king, coho, and sockeye.
Sockeye. The darkest-fleshed salmon, sockeye (also called red) is leaner than coho and king but still has a high fat content. Sockeye’s flavor is usually described as “deeper” than the other species. It does very well raw or barely cooked. Be careful with sockeye because it tends to be more poorly handled than king, often arriving bruised or torn. Make sure it isn’t, and that it has a briny, open-ocean smell.
In the coming weeks, I will post more about handling these species.
(Illustrations courtesy of Salmon Nation.)