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.
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.
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.