This week at la Domestique we’re cooking with wild salmon, fresh from the ice cold waters of the north Pacific. Wild salmon season begins in May, when the fish leave the ocean, returning to rivers to spawn. In preparation for this journey, the salmon have fattened up and their flesh is at its tastiest. The season for wild salmon lasts all summer, through September. Due to issues like overfishing, habitat destruction, and environmental impacts of farming salmon, it’s best to stick with Wild Alaskan Salmon, which the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch labels as Best Choice.
There are five species of wild Alaska salmon:
Oil content and flavor are directly related in salmon, and the King is famous for its high oil content. With a firm flesh and rich flavor, the King is well-suited to cooking on the grill.
Sockeye salmon are smaller and leaner than the mighty King, with an intense, bright red flesh. The flavor of sockeye is fresh and clean, making this species popular for sushi or salt-curing (gravlax).
Averaging between 6-12 pounds, Coho salmon is mild in flavor and displays a light pink flesh.
The Keta salmon is low in oil content and has the firmest flesh of all the salmon species. Its flavor is mild and this fish needs to be cooked gently, quickly poached in stock or en papillote (roasted in a parchment paper bag with plenty of olive oil and citrus slices for moisture).
The smallest of the Pacific salmon, weighing in at 3-5 pounds, it’s also the most abundant. The flesh of Pink salmon is mildly sweet and low in fat, best cooked whole in a moderate oven or gently seared in a hot skillet.
When buying salmon, take a look at what your fishmonger has to offer and compare prices. At any given time throughout the summer, you’ll find wild Alaska King, Sockeye, and Coho, and their prices will fluctuate throughout the season. Look for specimens with bright, firm, moist flesh. The salmon should smell clean, of the water, never fishy. Whole fish should have clear eyes and bright red gills. Learn what day your fishmonger gets his shipment of fresh fish, and make a routine of buying from him (or her) on that day.
Salmon can be found whole, as a fillet, or as u-shaped steaks. Though the fish is usually boned by the fishmonger, it’s important to run your fingers over the flesh and check for pin bones, which you can remove with tweezers. It’s best to cook salmon the same day you buy it. I like to fill a shallow bowl with ice, cover it with plastic wrap, and place the fish on top, then cover the whole thing in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge.
Fresh wild Alaskan salmon is something to be prepared simply, with care, allowing the fish’s inherent flavor to shine. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday at la Domestique, and you’ll find many creative ways to cook with salmon during summer. Don’t let the season pass you by without celebrating salmon in your kitchen.