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Mushy salmon... what went wrong??

I'm not a particularly accomplished cook, but I was doing OK baking salmon until last time around when my cooked fish turned mushy...

- I baked the fish in the oven using same method as per usual
- I bought the fish at my regular vendor. My fishmonger offers several different types of salmon and I usually order whichever of the organic variety looks nicest that day so I'm not sure whether a poor choice of fish might have short-circuited my efforts?

Does anyone have any suggestions as to what might have gone wrong?

Thanks -

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  1. If you really baked it the same way you always do; same temp, same time; then that only leaves the salmon as the suspect. Maybe not as fresh as usual; possibly a variety that is not as meaty? At what temp and for how long do you bake?

    1 Reply
    1. re: bnemes3343

      Baked at 400 for about 20 minutes. I know this perhaps seems a little high, but our oven is lazy so we typically have to crank it up and cook stuff for longer than books/other cooks generally recommend.

    2. MHO the fish is the culprit. Did you feel the texture of the piece bfore buying? Did you smell it first? Was it the same cut of fish as you usually buy? Theoretically "fresh"? Or frozen?

      5 Replies
      1. re: KiltedCook

        Totally agree. 400 for 15 - 20 minutes is how I do it. It has to be the fish - either not fresh and starting to break down or full of water or both.

        1. re: KiltedCook

          Very few, if any, places will let you press on the fish. Certainly not a chain grocery store. And many won't let you smell it. I much prefer to buy fish in a fish market that is less anal about touching and smelling. Chinatown in NY is a great place and much more fun than a grocery store anyway.

          1. re: KiltedCook

            - Fish was bought at a fishmonger (at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto)... a reliable vendor from whom we habitually buy fish and seafood
            - Did not smelly fishy or odd, but I did not feel the fish before buying it. Didn't notice anything particularly unusual during prep - although it didn't slice quite as clean-ly as usual (I apportion into pieces before cooking)

            I actually suspect it was the fish too, but I'm not sure how to avoid the problem next time around? I hate to waste what seems like perfectly good food, but the texture makes for really unpleasant eating so I chucked it. Is this worth mentioning to the vendor next time around or is this a problem one just has to deal with occasionally when preparing fish?

            Oh, and thanks to everyone for the helpful responses!

            1. re: Rabbit

              If this is a place you habitually buy fish from, I would mention it to them. If it hasn't been too long maybe they can figure out the source of the salmon and do something about it. If it happens again though, I would find another fishmonger. I honestly can't recall every having my salmon come out mushy

              1. re: Rabbit

                I would definitely mention it in a friendly way next time you are purchasing fish there. I myself frequent one of the fishmongers in the STLM, and once got a "bad" batch of scallps (not sure what was wrong, but they ended up mushy and stuck to the pan like crazy - and I have made them countless times). I mentioned it when purchasing some fish the next time - they were very nice about it and I even got some complimentary scallops.

            2. Because you use the term "fishmonger", I assume that this retailer specializes in selling only fish. If that's the case I would have expected a "reliable" fishmonger to provide you with a piece of quality fish ... otherwise he may not be "your" fishmonger and based on what's been written to this point I wouldn't use his fish counter again.
              Salmon that has been previously frozen, although it will often fry up nicely, will sometimes result in the textures you describe when it is baked.

              1 Reply
              1. re: todao

                I agree, not all the fish at the st. lawrence market is fresh fresh and not frozen, so be careful.. Mike's fish market is generally the best.

                Sorry this happened to you.

              2. If it's a real fish market with knowledgeable people (I have one even in my town of 50,000), I'd definitely mention it. I've eaten salmon for 50 years, and can't recall ever having any that was mooshy.

                1. Bad fish.

                  By the way, did you cook the fish right after buying it from the market?

                  Or did you keep it in the fridge for a few days before cooking? If so, that time lag may have something to do with it ...

                  1. I agree with the others that it was probably the fish. Fish is really picky about temperature and spoilage begins quickly when it is too warm. If your fish spends more than a couple of hours in your home fridge, keep it on a bed of ice—like a good fishmonger does. A long car ride home in a warm vehicle, stuck in traffic, is no good either. In the case of frozen fish, defrosting too quickly can cause this.

                    1. It's the fish.

                      Go back to your fishmonger, and just tell him (politely) that the last fish you bought was not up to the regular quality they usually have. If they are serious, they will ask when you got the fish and what kind of fish so they can trace the issue back in their own inventory; they might have received a batch of fish (even organic) that was not to the usual quality and it just "slipped' under their nose that morning.

                      I've done so with different merchants for different kind of food, and even if I don't get a refund or a reduced price on purchase, I feel, from the reaction I get back from them, I do them a great service.

                      1. As everyone has mentioned below, it sounds like it's the fish - my guess is that the mushiness comes from one of two things - either the fish has been frozen, defrosted, refrozen, etc... (time temperature abuse) or, it is possible that the fish is just softer at certain times of the year - I know that here some of the east coast fish get very soft during the warmer months, it has nothing to do with temp abuse of the fish, but it's a quality that the fish has while it's still alive.

                        1. I used to work for a small fish smoking operation in Massachusetts. As I recall there was a bacteria going through some of the west coast salmon farms in the early to mid nineties. The disease would make the flesh of the fish soft and mushy in texture. In extreme cases you could see it when actually filleting the fish. Other times it wouldn't show up until after cooking. Ask your fishmonger if it was farm raised fish that you bought. For this reason, and the fact that fish farms over stock their pens, I buy only wild caught salmon. Good luck to you.

                          1. Confession... I froze the fish and then cooked it a week or so after purchase. I often do this, so I hadn't even considered that it might compromise the quality to this extent... I've never had the mushiness problem (with salmon or cod). So perhaps this is "my fault??"

                            Does this mean that I shouldn't be freezing fish at all?

                            And thanks for everyone's patience, I've really only started cooking fish within the past year so I'm in the beginner learning stages about the challenges of dealing with the stuff at home.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Rabbit

                              I think the mystery is solved. ..Confession is good for the soul. Suggest not freezing in the future. Good luck

                              1. re: Rabbit

                                Freezing it didn't help. Had it been frozen before? It often is flash-frozen on the boat. And that kind of freezing is much easier on the fish than a freeze in a home freezer.

                                What on earth does "organic" mean in the context of salmon? Farmed salmon is usually mushier than wild.

                                1. re: Rabbit

                                  not an answer to your question,
                                  but, if in the future, you end up with fish that isn't rotten but you don't like, you might try making croquettes out of it

                                2. All too often the fine print qualifying the word "fresh" as it applies to fish, actually means "previously frozen, thawed, but not yet rotten".
                                  I have had success with chilean sea bass and its texture (usually baked in banana leaf), but one time I froze my purchase because I was going to cook it 3 days later. It presumably had been frozen and thawed once, before I bought it.
                                  Disaster. We could have slurped it through a straw. The mashed potatoes were more al dente.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    Chilean Sea Bass is ALWAYS frozen before it gets to you - shame 'cause its such a great fish!

                                  2. Rabbit, I've had fish that turned out mushy because it had been brought in by dynamiting (in East Timor). Obviously not the reason your fish was mushy.

                                    1. I lived in Alaska 20 years and we had a salmon that was labelled "pink" when it was canned, but we called it "dog" because that is where we fed it.

                                      My guess it was the freezing, but it could also have been the type. I always preferred red. makes my mouth water just thinking of it.

                                      1. I've always had a thing against frozen fish, meats, etc. but when I was visiting Alaska, we were served salmon at the Taku Lodge and they told us that by law, fish served must be frozen first. (To kill parasites, I guess) It was sooo delicious and I never would have known it'd been frozen.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: walker

                                          I believe there is a federal law that applies to any fish that will be eaten raw (like sushi) must be frozen.

                                          Supposedly they surveyed experienced sushi chefs who had a very hard time to tell the difference between frozen and fresh fish. Of course the fish were professionally frozen.

                                          1. re: chocolateman

                                            The Japanese tuna fishery flash freezes the whole tuna, i believe they use liquid nitrogen.

                                          2. re: walker

                                            there's freezing and then there's freezing.

                                            what commercial flash freezing will do to the quality of fish is VERY DIFFERENT than the damage that can occur in a home freezer.

                                            also, for the purposes of parasite/food safety, althoughi know that wikipedia is not the best source, but their info agrees with what i've heard before, so here goes.
                                            note how low the acceptable temperatures are. many home freezers simply NEVER get that cold.

                                            <<According to European Union regulations,[4] freezing fish at −20°C (−4°F) for 24 hours kills parasites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends freezing at −35°C (−31°F) for 15 hours, or at −20°C (−4°F) for 7 days.[5]
                                            While Canada does not federally regulate freezing fish, British Columbia[6] and Alberta[7] voluntarily adhere to guidelines similar to the FDA's.>>

                                          3. Sometimes it can be mushy if frozen and then thawed. Another reason may be that the fish was caught at the end of their season.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                              Once I got a salmon at the local supermarket that turned out to be mushy. The manager said that happens sometimes, and gave me another one.

                                            2. I had the same experience yesterday. I cook a salmon fillet the same way every time and I do it about once a week. The fish did not smell bad, I cooked it the day after I bought it. I put the fillet (0.5 to 0.8 lb) in a fajita pan under the broiler for 8 minutes and then turn off broiler and cook at 400 for 10 more minutes. The butcher where we bought the fish told us that sometimes farmed salmon is like that, they don't know why and they pull it out when they find it. We got our $ back. We've been eating salmon for years and never had this happen before.

                                              1. This has happened to me the past two times I have made salmon at home. I typically like my salmon a bit overcooked (I know, sorry!) so that it flakes into big chunks. I cooked it the same way as I always do (400 for 20 minutes) and it is just really mushy and unappealing. It was farmed salmon from my local chain grocery store, but I had been purchasing it for years and never had that problem. It is making me not like salmon! I'm going to try wild salmon and hopefully the quality is better and I won't have that problem anymore.

                                                1. I'm proposing, that when fish is frozen and then thawed due to a bad freezer truck or an extremely slow moving restocking crew, the previously flashed frozen fish (commercially fast or instant freeze process), then thawed then refrozen slowly in the store freezers destroys the individual cell walls of the fish and you get the mushy fish. This has happened to me on many occasions with a whole variety of fish, both fresh and salt water fish. I just bought frozen haddock which was delicious and frozen flounder which was mushy. I'm bringing it back to the store and demanding a refund. I asked a meat/seafood clerk this question about mushy fish around 2 years ago and he suggested it was what the farm raised fish were fed. When I told him the bag said "wild caught" (it was cod) he said it depends on what the wild fish were feeding on. This is total Bull S#!t as I am and have been an avid fresh and salt water fisherman all my life and I never experienced this mush with my own catches, only with frozen fish. Just a theory, but I bet I'm right. Can someone with a non-commercial scientific background (in plain english an educated scientist who doesn't lie for money) verify this theory?

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: My2Sence

                                                    i believe that fish don't have cell walls, but they do have plasma membranes.

                                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                                      Going out on a limb here. I'm guessing IF the salmon you bought was Atlantic salmon it was 99.999% farmed. (IF the fish had been 'line caught' you'd be here telling us how outrageous the price was.) Being sold in TO 'farmed salmon' seems plausible. Farmed Atlantic salmon is excellent IMO when it's fresh.
                                                      IF the salmon had been 'flash frozen' after it came from the fish farm net when you bought it it had already thawed. IF that was the case the fish market I think is legally obliged to label the fish 'PF'. Note they can get away with just using 'PF' and not have to spell out 'Previously Frozen' (Sneaky eh?). Then you take it home and freeze it for the second time. IF that's the case it's little wonder the fish was no good.

                                                  2. Well part of the problem was that the salmon was frozen, but I am also wondering now, did you crowd the salmon into a baking dish perhaps - to the point where it was more or less poaching/steaming as well?

                                                    I've had mushy fish when I bought it frozen and tried to bake it in the oven and it would give off a ton of liquid. It wasn't unless I drained off all that excess liquid and cranked the temperature up that the fish would start to brown around the edges and firm back up a bit.