How To Buy Salmon

Friday, October 24th 2014.

What to look for at markets when buying salmon:

Funny enough the most important thing to remember when learning how to buy slamon, or any seafood for that matter, in a market is nothing you can see but what you smell. Buying any type of seafood or even freshwater trout, you don't want a strong "fish" smell, but a subtle sea hinted smell sometimes a vague ozone scent.  Of course it’s going to smell like a fish or seafood, afterall that’s what it is, but you definitely don’t want a strong odour or smell.  Okay I hope that’s clear!

Next thing you need to test is elasticity of the skin.  When you press you finger on the flesh (I don’t mean jam it into the meat and poker a flippin’ hole!), does the skin stay indented or does it retain it’s original shape and spring back?  If it does and there aren’t any fingerprints, then the meat is fresh.

If you are planning on buying whole salmon (often Coho, Sockeye and Pinks are sold as whole salmon) you can check the eye’s to look for freshness.  To check the eyes you want to look to see if they are clear and the colors are vibrant (deep black) and not milky and sunken into the eye socket.  Gills should be a vivid red of some sort, Sockeye more than Chinook (sometimes called King or Spring salmon) and the skin should be chrome and have it’s protective slippery coating on it.

Farmed VS Wild Salmon

Many salmon connoisseurs of salmon will swear that buying Wild Salmon is the best way to enjoy eating fresh salmon there is and is therefore more expensive to purchase in the market, but the average consumer cannot tell the difference in taste at all!  For regular salmon eaters, the difference in taste is attributed to the fact that wild salmon have a richer taste because of their diets in their natural environment of ocean crustaceans.  The natural ocean habitat allows the wild salmon to feed on a healthier diet and with the natural physical attributes of the ocean, such as currents, escape from predators and migration, allows the flesh of the wild salmon to be much more firm.

When you buy farm raised salmon you will notice a lighter red or almost pink colour in comparison to wild salmon, although farmers are able to modify color by what they feed the salmon, so it’s not always an accurate gage.  The “football” shape or rounded shape of the farmed salmon is due to the confinement of the salmon in it’s cage or tank and retention of fat creates a rounder less firm fish.  Of course some of these farmed fish are delicious and can be prepared extremely well so don’t let it be the end all to be all.  Some salmon eaters are just real picky and have certain reservations over farmed salmon, but for someone who doesn’t eat a lot of salmon, there is going to be little difference.

Farmed Salmon

Companies that farm salmon are strictly regulated by organizations such as The Soil Association. The benefits of these particular farmed salmon are huge, as it creates better conditions with proper antibiotics, pesticides and diets with a more “natural” farmed life if you will, because of tight regulations.  Often it is these same fish that have a larger cage further out away from shore, resulting in happier healthier fish and is like comparing a dog that lives in a kennel to a dog that lives on an acreage.
Where’s the best place to buy Salmon?

Well you definitely have choices!  You can actually buy frozen fish online!  Most common places, though, are local fish or seafood stores and grocers.  Some have reservations on where the best place to buy your fish from is but here is mine;

 I catch my own salmon first and foremost, but if I were to buy some (much like I will buy prawns or scallops) I go to a local fishmonger that is bar none the best market in town due to his knowledge of fish and the fact that his business is fish alone.  He carries the freshest and best tasting fish available and knows tons of recipes off the top of the head.  His friendly service and suggestions are invaluable. 

Super markets or grocery stores are always good too if they have fresh fish counters in them, as fish actually starts to “spoil” as soon as they’re killed, so the quicker you get it the better.  A fresh fish counter will often have fresh steaks or fillets as well as whole salmon that often come from seasonal fish farmers or fishermen from around the world.  It’s not always as easy to smell and feel the fish when they are behind the glass counter, but you can always ask the staff how old the fish is or whatever fills your boots.

Frozen Salmon:

If you're wanting to know how to buy salmon the last thing you want to do is buy frozen fish if you want fresh meat, but I freeze my own salmon so I’d be a liar if I told you I’ve never enjoyed a nice cedar plank salmon that I’ve defrosted from my deep freeze.  The thing to remember here is that you don’t really know how old the fish is when you purchase frozen fish unless it has a best before date on the packing, so just keep an eye out for that.  If the fish is vacuum sealed then it can last up to 6 months, but if it’s in some other sort of packing I wouldn’t go past 3 months if you can help it.  Rule of thumb is don’t buy any more frozen fish than you can’t eat in a month or two.