Salmon Buying Expert Tips

Wild salmon season is officially open! This means your local grocery store’s seafood counter will be littered with different types of pink-orange fish. It also means confusion: which salmon is the healthiest? How can I store it? Should the flesh be firm or flaky, aromatic or odorless? Personally, I’m a bit overwhelmed by all the options, and while I know what I want – the freshest, healthiest fish – I don’t know what the right questions to ask about all salmon varieties are. As a result, I spend more time browsing than buying fish.

Luckily, third-generation Alaska commercial salmon fisherman Hanna Heimbuch is here to save the day by sharing her advice on how to buy wild Alaskan salmon.

Five species of wild Alaskan salmon

Before choosing a salmon fillet, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Heimbuch tells First for women that there are five types of wild Alaskan salmon – king, coho salmon, sockeye salmon, pink salmon and chum salmon. “Most of what you see on the seafood counter is [either] sockeye salmon, king, coho salmon or pink,” she notes.

Heimbuch gives a brief description of the four most common types of wild Alaskan salmon, as well as some tips for preparing them:

  • Red salmon: You will see the most popular species on the seafood counter. Also known as red salmon because of its beautiful dark red color. It has a rich salmon flavor and is delicious when grilled with fresh herbs or baked in the oven.
  • King Salmon: The largest of the species, known for its rich, juicy flavor and meatier texture. This is due to the higher omega-3 fat content. Enjoy pan frying for nice and crispy skin.
  • Coho salmon: This species is known for its orange-red flesh, delicate flavor and firm texture. It pairs well with a flavorful sauce of your choice.
  • Pink salmon: A versatile, light-tasting lean option that’s great for soups.

What to ask when buying salmon at a seafood store

Heimbuch harvests a wide variety of wild seafood from regions across Alaska and specializes in sustainable fishing practices. She shared five things you can ask the person behind the seafood counter about this fish before you buy it.

  1. Ask the source. “An easy way to know you’re choosing the best wild, sustainable fish is to simply choose salmon from Alaska, as all seafood out of state is guaranteed to be wild and sustainable,” she notes. “In fact, almost 99 percent of the wild salmon caught in the US comes from Alaska, and the state constitution mandates that all fish be harvested sustainably.”
  1. Ask for details. “The more information, the better. It is best if the fish seller at the fish counter can tell you exactly how and where the fish was caught. Additional information on the label is also a good sign, such as the specific region it comes from or the specific type of salmon,” she says.
  1. Ask if there is a season. “If a product is labeled “fresh” and “wild” when it is not actually seasonal, the product may be mislabeled. Wild Alaskan salmon is a summer fish that is in season from mid-May to fall. For information on when different types of seafood are available fresh, consumers can visit alaskaseafood.org,” she explains.
  1. Ask also about frozen salmon. “In Alaska, most of our catch is frozen as soon as it comes out of the water to lock in quality and maintain freshness,” she says. “So if the seafood counter doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can always check the freezer drawer and you’ll still get the same wild, organic, [and] high quality guarantee.
  1. Ask about anything that looks suspicious. “Wild salmon are often dark red or orange due to their natural diet of carotenoid-rich crustaceans… Wild salmon are leaner and often have less visible white fat than farmed salmon, so farmed salmon fillets will have more white lines are visible. she adds. “For fresh or previously frozen salmon, look for fish that looks moist, bright and firm. Avoid anything that looks dry, with brown spots or bruises.”

Two additional tips to keep in mind

Understandably, salmon is an extremely popular fish for cooking. So we asked one of our PZR to readers, Cindy Cartuscello of New Jersey, for her tips on making buying salmon a breeze.

First, she tells us that a quick 45-second look at a fillet should reveal how fresh it is. “It costs [taking] time to check the quality of the fish before you buy for dinner, like fresh salmon, which you pay more for,” she says.

Cartusciello also suggests asking the person behind the counter to peel or skin the fillet if you’d rather enjoy it. This step saves you time in the kitchen for cooking and cleaning up afterwards.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid the stress of visiting a seafood stand and enjoy the freshest dishes from wild salmon season through the end of the year!

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