The Wild Life
Wild salmon are amazing creatures. Born in the gravel of freshwater streams and rivers, they gradually make their way to saltwater oceans, undergoing along the way certain physical changes that help them adapt; then, at the end of their lives, they return to their birthplace to spawn. And the cycle continues.
Unfortunately, pollution, dams and overfishing have severely threatened this cycle of life. The Atlantic salmon, which once migrated up such mighty rivers as the Hudson, Thames, Seine and Rhine, are now severely depleted. In 2004, the discovery of a salmon swimming in the Seine made big news; it had been a century since the last salmon sighting. If you live near the Atlantic Ocean and its tributaries, you are most likely eating farmed salmon.
On the Pacific side of the United States, the situation is better for wild salmon, although they face the same threats and obstacles as in other parts of the world. Wild Pacific salmon continue to run throughout the coastal Pacific Northwest, from Alaska down to northern California. Among the Pacific salmon still putting up a fight are the Chinook (king), coho (silver), and sockeye (red). These can be found in markets from spring through fall.
Farmed Salmon: A Ranch in the Water
With wild salmon in decline, aquaculture has emerged as an attractive alternative. Farmed salmon has three advantages over wild salmon: it's available year round, it's less expensive, and the supply is plentiful.
However, there is a downside to a large-scale industrial system that packs fish into cramped saltwater pens like feedlots of the sea. Farmed salmon are given pesticides and antibiotics to protect them against the diseases that come from living in such close quarters. But salmon sometimes slip their confines, escaping into the ocean to mingle with wild salmon, corrupting the gene pool and introducing wild salmon to vigorous strains of diseases with which their immune systems cannot cope. Waste and feed problems can also lead to fish and water contamination.
Of course, not all aquaculture systems are alike, and there are many producers who impose strict standards to ensure that they are raising salmon in a way that protects salmon, environment and consumer alike. Ask your grocer for information about the fish-farming practices of the salmon available in your market.
What to Look For
Fresh salmon should never smell fishy. The flesh should be bright and moist and not discolored along the edges. If you're buying a whole salmon, its eyes should be bright and clear; the skin, silvery and shiny, and resilient to the touch.
Keeping Salmon Fresh
Salmon is best when eaten the same day you buy it. But it will stay for a day or two tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in the coldest part of the fridge. You can freeze salmon for up to 6 months. To thaw, take it from freezer to fridge the night before you intend to eat it. Or if time is an issue, submerge fillets in cool water; frozen fillets should be completely thawed in about an hour or two. Never thaw salmon at room temperature because bacteria can build up in the thawed outer portions even as the center remains frozen.
How to Prepare It
Salmon is a very versatile fish. It's delicious baked, broiled or tossed on the grill; smoked, poached, or cast into stews; fashioned into fish cakes, added to salads, or whipped up into dips and spreads.
Salmon and Health
Salmon isn't only tasty and easy to prepare, it's also good for you. Salmon contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of protein, and an abundance of vitamins, including B vitamins, and the antioxidant, vitamin E. The American Heart Association suggests eating two fish dinners a week, particularly fish like salmon that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.