How do I know what kind of salmon to buy? Should I buy farmed salmon or wild-caught salmon? What does it mean when salmon is labeled organic? How can I tell if it is fresh? I’m confused about whether consuming farmed salmon is okay or not.
These are questions I get over and over again, and I understand why: The answers aren’t totally clear to consumers.
It’s confusing to decipher the labeling and make decisions about what type of salmon to buy when we want to eat healthfully, consciously, and at the same time preserve the hard-earned dollars in our wallet. I hope to raise your salmon IQ with a few tips and tools to help you the next time you shop for salmon.
Ask the fishmonger wherever you shop what is fresh in the fish case and what fish has been previously frozen and thawed. Ask what fish is in season. Yes, fresh fish, such as salmon, are seasonal, just like asparagus and peaches. And buying in season, especially at the height of the season, is when you are going to get the freshest product and best prices.
Pacific salmon from Alaska and off the west coast of the United States is in season now. The commercial fishing season for wild-caught salmon (most notably from Alaska) is from mid-May until the end of September.
Always ask when the shipment arrived, whether it has been frozen (not necessarily a bad thing), and where it came from. I prefer shopping in markets where the fish are on ice in a refrigerated glass case, the counters and cases look clean, and the fish are protected from direct sun, flies, and other possibly harmful conditions. If possible, avoid fish sold in pre-wrapped packages. If the market has a strong fishy odor, walk right out!
Take a minute to download the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Guide on your smartphone or tablet. It’s a complete, up-to-date guide covering every type of seafood, classifying each as either a best choice, a good alternative, or a species to avoid completely due to fishing practices, environmental factors, or sustainability issues. Every type of seafood you buy should be labeled with its place of origin, whether it is wild-caught or farmed, and whether it is fresh or previously frozen.
As a quick guide for seafood labelling, understand this labeling:
Look, sniff, and touch. Visually, does the salmon look moist and glistening? Is the skin silvery and bright? If the salmon is being sold as a whole fish, are the eyes protruding, bright and clear? If shopping for fillets, do the fillets look moist and freshly cut, rather than flat and browned at the edges?
Don’t be shy; take a sniff! If the salmon appears good and you select a fillet to be weighed, ask to smell it. Fresh fish has no fishy odor. Top-quality fishmongers will be delighted you asked. If you feel shy about asking, just stand near the scale as the fish is being weighed and take a whiff.
Along with a sniff, ask to touch the skin. A gentle nudge with your fingertip will reveal whether the fish is resilient and firm rather than mushy or slimy. If the head is attached, ask to see the gills; they should be bright pink or red—if they are pale or brownish, the fish is old.
Ideally, buy fish on the day you plan to eat it. Otherwise, if you must store fresh fish for a day (two at the most), wrap it carefully, and put it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Best of all, enjoy the versatility of salmon can bring you in the kitchen!