Wild-Caught Salmon: not all the same?
There is no doubt that wild-caught salmon is far superior in taste to it's farmed counterpart. However, does anyone know how to rank the varieties? Copper river vs. King? Etc. I remember reading somewhere that one of the varieties really isn't that good (it was likened to cat food) and I regret not making a clipping.
Pink (or humpback) salmon is generally considered the least flavorful. I prefer king salmon, but red and silver salmon are also tasty. Some vendors also sell a salmon called silverbrite, supposedly similar to red. Wikipedia has what seems to an accurate entry on salmon.
Note that Copper River doesn't refer to a species; it just means it was caught there. And overpriced, IMO.
There are 6 species of salmon, 4 are commonly available in grocery stores, to confuse things further each species may go by several different names. Fattier salmon are generally more desirable and more expensive, although some folks (myself included) think that some king salmon are too oily. In order from most fatty to leanest...
king (chinook) salmon,
silver (coho) salmon
red (sockeye) salmon,
pink (humpy) salmon
chum (dog) salmon
Kokanee salmon (a non-migratory, freshwater salmon)
The "Copper river" or "Yukon river" designation is an indication of where the salmon was caught. Fish that spawn in locations far from the ocean tend to be fattier since they need the extra fat to survive the trip upriver. The Copper River spawning grounds are quite far from the ocean, and as a result, the fish tend to have more fat relative to other fish of the same species from other rivers. But a Yukon River (or undesignated river) king may have more fat/flavor than a Copper River coho (or it may not, depending on the age/size of the fish). The location designation is largely a marketing gimmick. Just get the freshest fish you can find, regardless of where it was caught.
(I have intentionally omitted the Steelhead because it is an ocean-going, spawning variety of trout. Steelys are often sold next to the salmon and are quite tasty in their own right.)
Any type of salmon...even Chum (ocean catch) is v. good as long as it's fresh and properly iced/bled after cathing. Freezing/thawing deteriorates the quality/texture as does prolonged storage "on ice". We have started getting this years "Copper River" Sockeye into the Costco here in north CA but the quality is not as good as one would like. My guess these fish are at least 5-7 days out of water and texture is staring to go...mushy, gapping, etc.
I have never eaten any freshly caught West Coast Salmon or Steelhead. Here are observations on the Salmon and Trout of Lake Huron. I'm guessing that their taste is as good as their salt water counterparts but in a different way.
All were anadromous fish caught in deep water or while they were staging just off river mouths, and all were a bright slver colour. Once a fish enters a tributary before spawning, its colour, texture and flavour decline rapidly. Riparian trout that spend their lives in rivers or streams are another matter altogether.
Pink Salmon. Generally two to five pounds. Deep pinkish orange flesh with a firm, tight texture. Cooks to a typical "salmon" hue with delicate understated salmon taste.
Brown Trout. Generally three to fifteen pounds and up. Best eating fish are three to five pounds. Deep, reddish, orange flesh. Similar in texture to the Pink, but far more coloured. Cooks to light pink with orange tinge. Somewhat similar in taste to Salmon family but quite distinct. More similar to Steelhead but not as assertive.
Coho. Two to Six pounds. Flesh ranges from rich orange to deep red depending on strain. More assertive taste than Pink Salmon but not as strong as Chinook. Again, tight, firm texture.
Steelhead. This is the name for an anadromous Rainbow Trout. Best eating size is two to five pounds. They range from two to fifteen pounds and up. Their flesh is bright red and similar in texture and firmness to everything above. It has a deeper, more assertive taste than a Brown. The meat cooks to a pale pink colour, somewhat less orange than Salmon.
Chinook. On our lake, these fish range from three to twenty pounds and up. Most fish are caught in the fall run and range from twelve to twenty pounds and up. On the other lakes they can reach forty pounds, but should not be eaten because of contaminants. Ours are safe. Their flesh is generally lighter coloured than Steelhead and the meat is generally coarser in texture (but not unpleasant - properly cooked it yields dollar sized scallops as you fork it) and cooks to the same colour as Coho. Very good taste.
Lake Trout. We get them from eight to fifteen pounds. In other lakes they can reach sixty pounds. Our Lakers have a pale, orange flesh which is rather soft, approaching mushy. This fish is very oily, even now in spring with spawning still far off in the future. Some rave about this fish and its taste. I should try one, but sense that this fish needs a lot of help - the others are amazing just with a bit of flour, very light seasoning and sauteed in a little bit of butter, or under the broiler. The oil though does make Lake Trout a standout fish for smoking.