Thanks to COVID-19, if you don’t live in an area that’s home to salmon, your chances of going on an excursion and reeling in your own fresh catch are slim this summer.
If you’re eager to enjoy some salmon but can’t catch it yourself this year, keep reading to learn what you need to know to buy it from your local grocery store.
UNDERSTAND THE LABEL
When you visit your local grocery store in search of salmon, you might see any number of identifiers on the labels. From “wild-caught” to “organic,” some of these names can be misleading, as they may not mean what you think. To help you make a smart choice, check out what some of the most common labels you might see actually mean:
This one is perhaps the easiest to understand, and in this case, means exactly what it says. If a salmon is labeled wild-caught, that means that it was caught or harvested in the wild, either in freshwater or ocean water.
Troll-Caught or Line-Caught:
Find fresh, rather than frozen salmon with this label, and you’ll be getting as close to salmon you caught yourself as you can get at a grocery store. This refers to salmon that has been caught using a hook and line. It often comes with a higher price tag because fishermen catch and inspect each fish individually.
Wild Alaskan Salmon:
Some buyers mistakenly believe this label refers to a specific species of salmon. But as you might already know, the Pacific is home to five different species of salmon; Sockeye, Coho, Pink, Chum, and Chinook or Salmon. Most Pacific salmon sold in stores in the U.S. is caught off the coast of Alaska and carries this label for that reason.
Organic or Fresh:
While these labels might catch your eye, they actually mean very little. The USDA doesn’t have a certification for organic fish, and the only way to get truly “fresh” fish is to catch it yourself (another great reason to book your next visit to Sointula Lodge!).
If you plan to add your salmon to sushi, make sure that it carries this label. Salmon and other fish, like tuna, that are intended to be eaten raw are flash-frozen to kill any parasites that might be present.
Another label that can be misleading, as Steelhead is actually a type of Rainbow Trout. While it can still make for a tasty meal, it also tends to be thinner, so be aware that it may cook faster than your regular salmon filets.
LOOK FOR SUSTAINABLY FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON
Farmed salmon often gets a bad reputation. And in many cases, this reputation is earned. When marine net pens are used, waste from the farms isn’t contained, which leads to pollution. It can sometimes lead to the spread of disease from farmed salmon to other wild marine life.
If you do decide to buy farmed salmon, either because it’s more readily available or more affordable, you can help offset the environmental effect by looking for sustainably farmed varieties.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program can help you make smart, healthy, environmentally-friendly choices when shopping both for farmed and wild salmon. For instance, they recommend Atlantic salmon that has been farmed in indoor recirculating tanks equipped with wastewater treatment as one of the best choices when shopping for salmon.
USE YOUR EYES AS WELL AS YOUR NOSE
You’ve likely heard that if you can smell fish, it isn’t fresh. While that’s a good rule to follow, it can sometimes be difficult to smell a filet through plastic or behind the glass at your grocery store’s counter. For that reason, it’s important to use your eyes as well.
You want to choose filets that appear moist rather than dried out. When shopping for a whole salmon, look out for brown spots on its belly. On filets, brown spots on the edges of the filet, or on the skin, can indicate that the fish is far from fresh. Another sign that a filet may be aged or going bad is if the flakes around the edges are separating from one another, also called “gaping.”
While farm-raised salmon have pigments added to their food to give them the same bright orange color that their wild-caught relatives naturally have, it’s still important to look at the color of any filet you’re considering buying. A fresh filet may be any shade from deep red to coral to bright pink while fresh. The more pale a filet, the less fresh it likely is.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO BUY FROZEN
While shoppers often assume that fresh is always better than frozen, this isn’t always the case with salmon. Depending on its source, when you’re buying it, and where you’re buying it from, frozen filets may actually be a better choice.
For instance, wild-caught salmon are active from May to October. So if you want to buy wild-caught outside of this time frame, you’ll want to buy frozen.
GETTING BACK ON THE WATER TO CATCH YOUR OWN SALMON
While store-bought salmon can help you get your fix in between fishing trips, nothing beats a salmon you’ve caught yourself. While you might not be able to make it to British Columbia this summer, now is the perfect time to book your 2021 visit to Sointula Lodge so that you can bring home your very own, wild-caught Pacific salmon!
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