by Linnea Covington
There’s nothing like fresh salmon on the plate, whether it’s grilled, baked, fried or steamed. But not all salmon is created equal, and our wild-caught sockeye has a flavor that sings of salty seas, and a gorgeous orange-pink hue thanks to the plethora of small crustaceans and zooplankton it fed on.
The salmon we get not only is fished in the best, most sustainable way, but it’s darn tasty too. This unique, crave-worthy flavor comes in part due to a higher mineral content, including potassium, zinc and iron. But, just because this salmon proves delicious, that doesn’t mean preparing the lean fish for dinner comes as easy as its farmed cousin. Unlike farmed salmon, wild salmon has less concentrated fat lines and tighter flesh, which means the cooking time is different and fish needs a little more care in order to keep those delicate flavors intact and the meat succulent.
“I get excited during salmon season,” says Sheila Lucero, executive chef of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar in Downtown Denver. “I love the flavor of course and the quality, and we love the story behind the salmon, where it’s coming from and how it’s caught.”
While Lucero doesn’t get her fish from the same fisherman we do, she understands the importance of quality and sourcing. She also knows how to prepare it. Learn to cook wild salmon well, and the next time you get a five-pound fillet from us via Alaska Direct, you will understand why it’s worth the extra money for such quality.
First Things First
Before putting the fillet on the grill, in a dish to bake, or to simmer and steam, it’s good to add a dose of olive oil on the skin and flesh. This not only adds a layer of fat to protect the fish from sticking to the pan, but can impart extra flavor and moisture to the meat. With baking you don’t really need the oil on top of the orange meat, but it helps crisp the skin.
This is also the perfect time to add desired spices and herbs. The natural flavor of wild salmon proves pleasing on its own, but ingredients such as lemon, rosemary, thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, basil and so on can enhance the natural flavor of the meat. Always apply salt and pepper before cooking, and add more after if needed.
And pin bones, those tiny, needle like bones that are not fun to eat or pick out. Lucky for us, Alaska Direct removes these bones before the fish is salt glazed, vacuum-sealed and frozen. That means you don’t have to worry about this tedious step when purchasing salmon through Locavore Delivery.
No matter what technique you decide to cook your salmon, you can plan on heating it approximately 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. This means a thinner sockeye fillet will take roughly 9 minutes to finish. Where as the larger, thicker cuts could run closer to 20. Cook the fish skin side down for two-thirds of the time, and use the rest of the time to add color and sear the pink side. As for undercooking, that’s not really a problem. Wild-caught salmon doesn’t need to be heated all the way through. In fact, many people like their fish on the rarer side in order to appreciate the fresh flavor.
Baking an 8-ounce piece of fish can be done at 425 degrees for 5 to 12 minutes depending on the thickest part of the fillet. Again, make sure to keep the time short so the wild-caught salmon doesn’t dry out. Steaming and frying are more forgiving since the salmon is ensconced in moisture, but it’s still good to not over do it. After you’ve cooked your salmon, let it rest a few minutes to tighten up, then serve and eat.
Ways To Cook Wild Salmon
“Wild salmon is versatile, we use all different types of techniques and it can stand up to just about any style of cooking you want,” says Lucero. “Personally, I love the flavor the wood-fired grilled gives the salmon, it’s a match made in heaven.”
Really, you can do almost anything with salmon including the aforementioned grilling to pan frying, broiling, curing raw and turning into gravlax or lox, pickling, searing and more. It’s best to use salmon in ways you like to cook. If blackened fish is your thing, break out the frying pan or grill. Those who like a more English or Scottish approach may bake the fish with plenty of lemon, potatoes, onions and in some cases, cream. Asian dishes lean toward the seared and raw side, though a fillet singing with sweet teriyaki and smoke proves a wonderful use for sockeye.
For Ryan Hanley, owner of Alaska Direct and the man who fishes for this salmon every July, says grilled salmon rules in his house, but he also likes it smoked in the smoker. Often, he says, he or his wife will do a salt-sugar brine to pull out excess water and improve the texture. Then, they keep it simple with salt and pepper or lemon pepper and onion, or a brown sugar and honey glaze. It takes just 8 to 10 minutes on the grill and then they have supper.
Try It Raw or Close To Raw
“I like to do an escabeche with it since it’s too hot to have an oven on in the house right now,” says award-winning chef Caroline Glover, owner Annette in the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. “If it’s a good product, keeping it slightly raw is so delicious.”
To do this, Caroline sears one side of the fish and then weighs it down in a pickling liquid such as vinegar, oil, lemongrass and cilantro. She leaves it overnight in the cooler and pulls out the next day to serve over bibb lettuce and fresh herbs. It’s easy, she says, to do your own take on this method, combining flavors you love with the quality sockeye. You can also sear the fish, keeping it raw on the inside, and dip it in a sweet sauce or serve over a salad.
Things to Remember
- One way to keep leaner wild salmon from drying out is to coat the fish with a layer of olive oil and/or a blanket of herbs, lemon, capers or any other ingredients you love. This will help seal in the moisture while it cooks, as well as add even more great flavor to the already tantalizing sockeye.
- Dry salmon before cooking with a paper towel.
- High heat is best when baking or grilling, just keep the cook time low. If the skin is sticking to the pan or grill, cook it a little longer.
- Freezing salmon kills any bacteria that may have been in the fish while it was alive. This means you can eat it raw once it’s defrosted. We do advise against eating raw fish if it’s been defrosted for more than a day, but you can still cook it up and enjoy.
- Don’t defrost your sockeye until ready to use. The freezing keeps the fish fresh, but once it’s defrosted it starts to age and can get that fishy smell if not eaten in a few days.