Also called King, this is the largest Pacific salmon species (average adult weight is 20 lb., but it can go up to 50 lb.). It’s the earliest to market and the most sought after, prized for its high fat content and melt in-your-mouth flesh that ranges in color from ivory to deep orange-red.
Also called “silver salmon” for its bright, silvery skin, coho’s deep orange flesh is firm and meaty, with a more delicate flavor than king salmon. Coho are the second largest species, with an average weight of 12 lb.
• For the best flavor and texture, buy fresh wild salmon the same day you are going to cook it.
• Use your nose—salmon (and all fresh seafood) should smell of nothing but the sea. Avoid any that smell “fishy.”
• For whole salmon, the eyes should be clear and moist, not sunken or red. The gills should be bright pink or red, not brown or gray.
• For fillets and steaks, look for tight flesh with no gapping. Gaps appear as the flesh deteriorates and can also be a sign that the salmon was handled roughly during processing.
• Larger fillets from the head end of the salmon tend to have a more uniform thickness, so they cook more evenly.
• Look for salmon displayed on mounds of ice or in dry trays at the fish counter; when fish sits in liquid, its flavor leaches out.
• If you can’t cook fresh salmon right away, loosely wrap it in plastic and keep it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for no more than 2 days, or wrap well in plastic and heavy-duty foil and freeze for up to 3 months.
• Defrost frozen salmon overnight in the refrigerator. Put the unwrapped fish on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet or in a colander set over a bowl so that any liquid can drain away.
Pin bones are small, flexible, needle-like bones that run the length of each salmon fillet. Some fishmongers will already have removed them for you, but it’s best to make sure before cooking. To check, run your fingers lengthwise in both directions down the center of the fillet, feeling for the tips of the bones, which are spaced about 1/2 inch apart.
If you find any, use clean needlenose pliers or tweezers to grab the tip of each bone and give it a gentle tug, pulling it out in the same direction it lies; pulling the pin bones out in the opposite direction will tear the flesh. (You can watch a video demo of a clever trick for removing pin bones.)
Go med-rare, or raw Don’t be afraid to eat wild Pacific salmon that’s not cooked all the way through. Its succulent texture shines when the fish retains a touch of translucence in the center. Or be bold and try it raw.
Grilling gold Sometimes, fat is a good thing, like when you consider how the high fat content of wild salmon helps it stand up so well to the heat of the grill, basting it from the inside out.
Quick cook Wild salmon cooks—and overcooks—quickly. A good rule of thumb is to cook it for 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness, regardless of the cooking method.
• Make sure the salmon you buy fits onto your grill with enough room to roll it over so you can grill both sides.
• Heating the grill grates well and oiling them several times help keep the salmon skin from sticking. Dusting the skin with flour and oiling it just before it goes onto the grill help, too.
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