Monday, June 28, 2010


Salmon is a fish that, when I lived on the East Coast, I thought was good and solid, but not spectacular. I didn't quite get why so many cooks thought is was one of the best saltwater fish to cook and eat. Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest and discovered why.

Most salmon eaten on the East Coast is from the Atlantic is farmed salmon. Farming helps keep the salmon population up but keeps the salmon in proscribed areas. This leads to less foraging for food by the fish, which leads to lower muscle tone, increased fat, and less flavor. Atlantic salmon's flesh is lighter pink than Pacific salmon, in large part because the salmon is fed a farm-feed. Some areas add beta carotene to help increase the pinkness of the flesh, but that doesn't improve flavor.

Pacific salmon, on the other hand, is largely (but not exclusively) wild-caught. There are Pacific salmon farms, but, most restaurants and groceries carry several varieties of wild-caught fish. Admittedly, the stocks of fish in the Pacific have been very stressed in the last few years, so wild-caught is both becoming more scarce and more expensive.

One really interesting facet of Pacific salmon is the variety of flavors you can find. All salmon is labeled by subspecies, such as king, sockeye, and chinook, and some are also labeled by river, such as Copper River. So, at my local grocery store, I can have my choice of Copper River sockeye salmon, Copper River king salmon, chinook and others. Copper River salmon of any type is seen as superior to others, with good reason. While many people claim that king salmon is the best, most flavorful, I actually prefer sockeye. King salmon has firmer flesh and make larger fillets or steaks, but I find the flavor of the sockeye to be far superior.

Regardless of where the fish is from, if you don't pick a fresh fillet, you won't have good fish. The fish should be firm, relatively odorless, and reasonably moist. If the fillets have gaps between muscle tissues, are dry, or have a strong scent, then pass it up.

I've grilled salmon, poached it in wine, roasted it, pan-fried it, and baked it. I tend to prefer grilled or roasted salmon, but I'll eat it nearly any way I can get it. Several restaurants along the Pacific coast batter dip it and deep-fry it -- oh that's heavenly!

Roasted Salmon
1 large salmon fillet (I prefer fillets to steaks in large part because there are fewer bones)
1 orange
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1 cup of white wine
2 tablespoons of canola oil

Preheat oven to 425°F (230°C).

Clean the salmon; you will likely have to descale it. Coat pan with canola oil and place salmon on the pan skin down. Place in hot oven. Roast until salmon is done -- between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on how done you want it. The salmon will be light pink. If you want a brown crust, lightly oil the top.

Grate the zest from the orange. Squeeze the orange for its juice.

Put soy sauce, juice, wine, and zest into a sauce pan. Reduce by half or so. Drizzle over salmon.

As my house guest a few weeks ago said, "Pacific salmon is much more delicate than Atlantic." The fat isn't cloying as it can be in Atlantic salmon, the flavor is much less fishy, and the texture is quite a bit finer. Add an acidic sauce to brighten the flavors and you will have an amazingly succulent fish.

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