Frequently, when you go to restaurants, menus list something like “Grilled Salmon with potatoes.”
But what kind of salmon is it? And wouldn’t you want to know?
Just as there are many different kinds of meat and a variety of ways that the meat may be raised, there are a lot of different kinds of salmon.
There are Pacific Salmon and Atlantic Salmon. Just about all the commercially available Atlantic Salmon for purchase is farmed. Farmed Atlantic Salmon comes from Norway, Chile, Scotland, Canada, and a number of other places. Note that Chile and Canada have farms on the Pacific Ocean, but they farm Atlantic Salmon there.
Then there are Pacific Salmon, and the great majority of wild Pacific salmon are harvested in the state of Alaska. There are five species of Pacific Salmon. Keeping track of their names becomes confusing because there are several names for each of the five species: King Salmon (frequently also called Chinook Salmon), Coho Salmon (commonly known as Silver Salmon), Sockeye Salmon (also known as Reds), Pink Salmon (colloquially dubbed Humpies, short for Humpback), and Keta Salmon (also called Chums). Each of these wild Pacific salmon species have different characteristics and different flavors.
Describing the flavors of all of these salmon is a subjective endeavor. A wild salmon’s flavor might vary based on a number of factors, including:
- The salmon’s maturity. A salmon caught while actively feeding in the open ocean will be at its prime while a salmon caught near a river’s mouth, about to return to spawn cannot compare.
- How the salmon was caught
- How the salmon was handled on the boat
- How the salmon was processed
- What was the cold chain like between the landing the fish and ending up on a diner’s plate
- How the salmon was prepared
Wild-caught salmon are harvested in several different ways. Typically, they are caught in either gill nets, by purse seine nets, drift nets, or by hook and line (also known as trolling). There are varying levels of cleanliness and care on fishermen’s boats and handling procedures, which will affect quality. As a general rule, most fishing boats in Alaska are small family businesses. Because of this, the small fishing boats in Alaska tend to have a deep and humble pride in the livelihoods that they are leading and the seafood that they produce.
In our business, quality starts in the water. And this is especially true for wild salmon. Everything we do after the salmon comes out of the water can only degrade the quality of the salmon. With regard to the different catch methods, typically a line-caught salmon should be of excellent quality because the salmon is by definition caught while the salmon are actively feeding. Troll-caught salmon should be ocean-bright and therefore not going through the degradation process that occurs when a salmon returns to its native stream to spawn. Trolling is a much “slower” catch method than harvesting salmon by net, which can catch hundreds or thousands of salmon at a time. The slower process of trolling allows fishermen to put more time into taking care of each fish, one fish at a time. The salmon are caught one hook, one fish at a time. By bleeding the salmon and gutting it once the salmon comes on board, the fishermen remove the parts of the fish that make its meat flavor taste off. There are a few net fishermen that bleed and gut their salmon, too, greatly increasing the chances of producing a quality salmon. But, in general, because of the extra care given to each salmon that comes with traditional hook and line fishing methods, a troll-caught or line-caught salmon is going to be the crème de la crème. Less than 2% of Alaskan salmon are line-caught, so they are indeed a special treat to be savored. Note that Alaska Gold Seafood comes from a cooperative of fishermen that primarily fish by hook and line methods. Our wild salmon is line-caught at the peak of its quality in the pristine waters of Alaska.
Of the Pacific salmon, there are king salmon. With meat colors ranging from orange-red to creamy white, these are the largest and least numerous of the Pacific salmon. King salmon tend to return to bigger river systems to spawn and to prepare for this journey up big, fast-moving streams, they build up a lot of (good) fat. Their big flake and succulent, rich flavor and very high oil content make them very much in demand and the most popular seafood item we sell. The best way to cook would be a slow grill at 275° F over a flavorful hardwood like alder or cedar. Capers or mustard-y acidic sauces will help balance out the fish flavor of a king salmon. Some customers pan sear for roughly 4 minutes a side. A simple bake at 400° F for 10-12 minutes will work, too.
A very close second is our coho salmon. Milder and more delicate, with a peachy orange color, coho salmon’s quality and flavor benefit greatly from being line-caught, as their delicate meat, prized for pairing with fine meals, is kept in pristine condition with the dedicated handling procedures practiced on trolling boats. Like king salmon, coho salmon are rich in oils and coho salmon are particularly rich in vitamin D, while being leaner than king salmon. Their mild flavor makes them easy to pair with all kinds of recipes and a family favorite and pleasing also to picky eaters and children alike.
Another species of salmon that benefits from being line-caught is keta salmon. Most keta salmon are caught in nets as they approach streams and the end of their lives with poor meat quality, making them eventually sold in lower-end markets. In contrast, our Alaska Gold wild keta salmon are caught on hook and line and by definition they are actively feeding and at the peak of their quality. The difference in being line-caught cannot be underestimated. Our Alaska Gold keta salmon are very mild, moist, and delicious, and can be used in a variety of recipes, like this Keta Salmon Curry with Lemongrass and Galanga Recipe or this Sweet Chili Keta Salmon recipe. One of the best ways to enjoy keta salmon is slow-grilled with teriyaki sauce. A blackening seasoning or creamy sauces like those used for a Halibut Olympia recipe also work really well with keta salmon.
Sockeye salmon is one of the more numerous Alaskan salmon. They are prized for their deep red color, firm texture and robust flavor. They are plankton eaters and do not usually take hooks, so they are rarely caught on hook and line. From time to time we offer the rare line-caught sockeye salmon we catch for sale on the Alaska Gold website. This is a really, really special item, as less than 1/100th of 1% of sockeye salmon available in stores are caught on hook and line and benefit from both the care given to each fish that is typical for a line-caught salmon and also being caught in a state of active feeding. Sockeye salmon, because of their bold flavor, can hold their own with super-flavorful spices and sauces.
Lastly, there are pink salmon. Pink salmon, with light color and tender texture, when handled well, are a great option for canning and smoking.
Noting that only 12% of world salmon production is wild Alaskan salmon and that the vast majority of the remainder is farmed marks our Alaska Gold wild salmon as something truly unique.
In addition, recent reports have identified that a good amount of seafood sold in supermarkets and restaurants in the United States is mislabeled. A report from Time Magazine noted that 43% of salmon was mislabeled in a recent study—and 69% of that mislabeling was farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild.
With the potential for seafood mislabeling, it makes sense to get your seafood from a purveyor that you can trust or direct from the source. Alaska Gold seafood is your direct connection to a cooperative owned by fishermen. Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC) is a co-op owned by hook and line fishermen and Alaska Gold Seafood is where you can find and buy SPC’s seafood online.
There are also some very important reasons to ask for Alaska salmon rather than “salmon.” All of Alaska seafood is wild-caught. There is no finfish farming in Alaska, so that all salmon is harvested in the wild, pristine waters of Alaska. In addition, Alaska’s seafood is managed to be sustainable. Alaska is the world’s most trusted source of premium quality, sustainable seafood. Alaska is emulated around the world as being a pioneer of sustainable seafood. Harvest by sustainable yield is written into the state’s constitution. In other words, Alaska’s fisheries are scientifically managed so that the long-term health of the fish stocks are top priority. Harvest quotas are managed so that the grandchildren of today’s fishermen should have opportunity to fish in the same way in the future. In addition, the Alaska salmon industry supports America’s economy. As previously mentioned, the vast majority of Alaska salmon fishing boats are small American family businesses. As a whole, the Alaska seafood industry accounts for 111,800 jobs in the United States.
All salmon is nutrient-dense and contain a goodly amount of lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and is packed with vitamins and minerals. What remains questionable is the feed that farmed salmon are given, which can account for an increased chance of toxicity with potential higher levels of pesticides and PCBs, and antibiotics. Salmon farmers would like the public to believe that eating farmed fish “saves” wild fish, but in reality aquaculture has done little to reduce pressure on wild fish stocks, as much of the feed for farmed salmon is wild fish. Some times, it can take as much as 10 pounds of wild fish to make 1 pound of farmed salmon. Salmon farmers have worked to improve these ratios, but salmon farming in Norway has almost completely wiped out the wild salmon runs there. In addition, salmon farms in Canada are contaminating wild salmon with a blood virus piscine ortoeovirus (PRV). It is believed that PRV causes king salmon red blood cells to rupture. Meanwhile a good number of king salmon runs are in decline in British Columbia. Canada has done little to shift salmon farms outside of wild salmon migration routes. It is the bane of many Alaskan fishermen that salmon farming continues in British Columbia, where it is believed that not only that PRV is being spread to wild salmon, but there are also numerous clean-up issues in waters where salmon are farmed. In addition, Farmed salmon tend to have a flabby texture and flavor, as they are in general fattier, but not with the right kind of fats. Farmed salmon have varying degrees of the heart-healthy Omega-3s for which wild salmon are prized, but usually not in the same beneficial ratio to Omega-6s. This Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio truly makes wild salmon stand out.
With all this information on the variety of salmon out there, wouldn’t you want to know what kind of salmon is on the menu?