When looking to bake, broil, fry or grill salmon, knowing what types of salmon to choose can be challenging. Here is a summary of the various species of salmon and their characteristics. Knowing what to look for can save you a lot of confusion and money at the grocery store.
According to the USGS, the United States Geological Service, "there are seven species of Pacific salmon. Five of them occur in North American waters: chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and pink." There are two other types, Masu and amago salmon, that are only found in Asia. There is only one species of Atlantic salmon.
Chinook (King) Salmon
Chinook Salmon, frequently referred to as King Salmon or Alaska King Salmon, are all the same species of salmon just called by different names. This salmon is considered by many of us to be the best salmon you can find. It is very rich and high in Omega 3 fats. The higher fat is what gives King salmon its prized flavor. While Chinook may be considerably larger than other species, it is also much more rare and thus pricier. Salmon that comes from prized rivers or regions can fetch even higher prices per pound. Unless you know exactly how to cook this salmon and are convinced this is the kind of salmon you want, you may want to start with other species of salmon or chinook from less prime waterways. There are many other types of salmon that are equally delicious and won’t break your budget.
Because of it’s high fat content and size, King salmon can be much easier to grill or fry as it is less likely to dry out during cooking and the thick flesh holds the fish together better.
The color of the salmon flesh can range from red to pink to orange to white or a marbled effect depending upon the river where it originates. Not unlike other foods we eat, these variations are caused by the different diets and environs the salmon has traveled.
Sockeye (Red) Salmon
As the name implies, this species of salmon is bright red. It also is leaner, less fatty and has an intense flavor. Depending on your tastes, this salmon can seem more flavorful or more fishy tasting. Sockeye are substantially smaller and less expensive than Chinook. You will most likely this species smoked, cut into filets, or made into salmon patties. Sockeye pricing can vary depending upon the river and source. The higher pricing from some well recognized rivers, doesn’t always translate to better tasting or higher quality. While these are great tasting salmon, it's always good to try different specifies, talk to your fishmonger, and don’t assume because one is more expensive than another that you will like it more.
Coho (Silver) Salmon
Not as commonly known as Chinook or Sockeye salmon, this specifies is still a really wonderful choice. Coho salmon has a medium fat content that makes for a subtler tasting fish. If you want to make a show-stopping dinner presentation, coho salmon is great cooked whole and served on a platter.
Pink (Humpback) Salmon
You most likely have come across this type of salmon processed in cans or pouches. Pink salmon is low in fat and very mild tasting, and yes it’s also pink. You may also find it smoked, frozen or fresh, but much less often than processed and packaged or canned.
Chum (Keta) Salmon
If there could be such a thing as the ‘ugly step-child’ in the salmon fishing industry, Chum would fill that role - until recently that is. Chum salmon is small, pale in color, and low in fat. It does however, produce delicious roe. If you’ve ever had ikura, salmon roe, in sushi or in other Japanese cuisine, you will know just how flavorful those large, bright orange balls of chum roe can be. Chum is more often being fished for it’s delicious fillets and not just it’s roe. The transformation to this once forgotten but now beautiful salmon, has given us another great option to cook.
Atlantic salmon is one of the more common species you may be familiar with. What you find in your fish market or in a restaurant has been commercially raised. Wild Atlantic salmon is no longer commercially available. Farm-raised Atlantic salmon has received bad press over the last several years. Just like most consumable items, there are realistic concerns but also changes to farming practices. If you know what to look for, you can enjoy excellent farm-raised salmon that is not only delicious and good for you, but is sustainable. According to NOAA, farm-raised salmon and trout have greatly improved over the years. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Salmon Recommendations for your salmon choices. You can also search other types of seafood while you are there. Farm-raised salmon is more affordable and is available year-round making them more readily accessible to consumers. Salmon is such a healthy and wonderful tasting fish that you will want to have it on your diet more often. Knowing the types of salmon and what to look for in each type will make your shopping easier.