Exotic Seafood Survey #7: Pacific Salmon

Five different species of salmon live in the Pacific Ocean, and spawn in rivers on the American and Canadian West Coast. The main difference between these and the more common Atlantic salmon is that the Pacific fish face an incomparably more challenging swim upstream on their native streams to spawn. To survive this, they build up a lot of fat. Much fat=big flavor. (The fat is also why salmon is also the most beneficial fish to eat from a health perspective.)

Virtually all Pacific salmon are wild-caught fish, not subject to those issues you hear about in their feeding. The orange-red color of their flash is all natural.

Chinook (also called king) salmon is the best species. The longer the river up which they travel, the better the fish. The ultimate is the Copper River salmon from Alaska, which have become a major gourmet phenomenon on the West Coast. Because of that, not much Copper River salmon makes it to New Orleans. Also very good is the sockeye or red salmon, whose color is as dramatic as its name implies. It’s smaller than the chinook, but has more fat per pound.

Cooking Pacific salmon is as flexible a proposition as it is for the Atlantic fish. Almost any preparation comes out good, with deep-frying being the least appealing. The flavors are pure enough that our usual heavy hand with seasonings ought to be relaxed for an especially fine side of Pacific salmon.

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