Here’s the Best Way to Prep Wild Salmon

Your ultimate guide to mastering one of the most delicious, nutritious protein options.


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From mega-grocers to bistros, salmon is everywhere. But for a sustainable catch of the day with richer flavor, opt for wild Alaskan salmon species like Chinook or sockeye. (If salmon is labeled “Atlantic,” it’s farmed). Peak season runs from May to September. Wild salmon also has a better protein-to-fat ratio than farmed, but this means learning how to prep wild salmon is key to make sure you don’t overcook it and dry it out.

Wild salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce health issues associated with aging, according to a recent study from Tufts University. Hard-to-get vitamin D, which your body needs for optimal bone and immune health, gives this salmon even more nutritional clout.

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Whether you are buying a whole side, individual fillets, or steaks, the flesh of fresh salmon should look moist and shiny, not dull, and should smell like an ocean breeze rather than overtly fishy. But don’t avoid frozen: State-of-the-art flash-freezing technology results in little (if any) loss of quality. Frozen fillets of wild salmon can be a more economical way to reel in dinner without the risk of turning fishy in your fridge. Outside of the harvesting season, “fresh” salmon displayed on ice has most certainly been previously frozen.

Prep

Most cuts of salmon are sold with the pin bones removed, but sometimes a few are missed by the fishmonger, so be sure to run your finger along the flesh before cooking and pluck out any of these choking hazards. You can grill, pan-sear, roast, poach, or steam ultra-versatile salmon, and its buttery flesh takes well to rubs, marinades, glazes, and sauces. But whichever cooking method you employ, cook wild salmon to an internal temperature of only 120°F so it retains more moisture (seriously: Go much beyond this temp, and you’ll end up with a tough, flavorless cut of seafood). When using an outside grill, go with a lower temperature (such as 300°F) and cook for slightly longer than you would farmed salmon. In a skillet or on grill grates, cook salmon almost exclusively on its skin side, with only a quick flip near the end of cooking. This keeps the flesh juicier and leaves you with crackly, crisp skin to snack on. If skin is not your thing, it can be easily removed post-cooking by gently sliding a wide, thin spatula between the cooked flesh and skin.

Make It Last

Fresh salmon can last up to two days if stored in a refrigerator that is set close to 32°F. A good option is to slide the fish into a ziplock bag, then set in a bowl of ice and place at the back of the fridge. If vacuum sealed, frozen salmon will keep in your freezer for about three months.

Knowing how to prep wild salmon will deliver tastier results.
Photo: Getty

Sheet-Pan Wild Salmon Dinner

This simple, Greek-inspired recipe pairs bright flavors to let wild salmon shine. A drizzle of olive oil helps seal in moisture to keep the low-fat protein from drying out, and the feta becomes soft and creamy. Serve over orzo, or try it chopped up bruschetta-style with a big hunk of good-quality bread. This recipe calls for dried oregano, but feel free to use fresh if you have it; nestle a couple of sprigs in with the feta.

  • Serves: 2
  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. kalamata olives
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 (6-oz.) block feta, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 (8-oz.) wild salmon fillet
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Cooked orzo, for serving

Directions

  1. Step 1

    Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss asparagus, lemon slices, and olives with oregano and 1 tablespoon olive oil on a large sheet pan. Spread vegetables out so they’re not crowded together.

  2. Step 2

    Nestle feta slices on the pan. Place sheet pan in oven and cook for 12 minutes, or until the asparagus is almost cooked through (stems are pierceable but not soft) and the lemon slices have softened.

  3. Step 3

    Carefully remove sheet pan from oven. Using a spatula, create room in the center of the pan; add salmon to space. Season entire pan with salt and pepper. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over salmon, and return the sheet pan to 400°F oven.

  4. Step 4

    Cook for 8 minutes, checking salmon for doneness after 5 minutes (internal temperature should be 120°F; thicker pieces of fish will take slightly longer to cook). Serve with orzo.


—Recipe by Jessica Campbell-Salley