Think pink: What to look for when buying salmon

Here fishy, fishy, fishy...

Rich Patterson, director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, holds a Sockeye salmon along the Ugashik River in southwest
Rich Patterson, director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, holds a Sockeye salmon along the Ugashik River in southwest Alaska. Patterson was a fishery biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game when this photo was taken in 1971 or 1972. (Photo submitted)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Rich Patterson ate a lot of salmon in the early 1970s.

A fishery biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Patterson said there wasn’t a lot of other food available while stationed at a counting tower, counting migrating salmon.

Not that he’s complaining.

“There are times I really miss that,” says Patterson, director of the Indian Creek Nature Center.

Fortunately, today, salmon is readily available in the Midwest, thanks to improved shipping methods.

“Most Alaskan wild salmon were once canned,” Patterson says. “They are now more often shipped fresh or frozen to markets.”

However, Patterson cautions that frozen or fresh salmon labeled as such doesn’t necessarily mean it is what it says.

“Atlantic salmon, the most common salmon sold in markets, isn’t salmon at all,” Patterson says.

Because Atlantic salmon have been harvested into near extinction, most are now raised in pens and fed a dye to make their flesh red.

“They are trout,” Patterson says. “They are all domesticated and highly manipulated. To me, they are the fish equivalent to a hothouse tomato.”

Wild-caught Alaska and Canadian salmon, however, are sustainably harvested with healthy stocks. It is, Patterson says, the best salmon for the environment and your taste buds.

So how do you know that’s what you’re getting?

There are six species of Pacific salmon: King; Sockeye or Red; Pink or Humpy; Chum or Dog; and Silver or Coho.

Pink (Humpy) and Silver (Coho) are the most common frozen salmon available in Eastern Iowa.

Frozen salmon is available year-round in Eastern Iowa. Fresh salmon is, too, but Patterson says consumers need to know what they’re buying.

“Salmon season is June, July and August,” he says.

Fresh salmon available in market any other month of the year is likely to be the genetically modified Atlantic salmon varieties.

“To me, they never taste as good as wild salmon,” Patterson says. “You’re better off saving your money and buying frozen.”

If fresh salmon is what you want, ask to see both sides before buying it.

“The best tasting salmon are those caught in salt water or very soon after they enter estuaries,” Patterson says. “As soon as they enter fresh water, they begin consuming their own bodies. They do not feed. Their skin begins to darken. Look at fillets on ice. Ask to see the skin and choose the most silvery one.”

Likewise, on the flesh side, a salmon that is fresh will look moist and shiny. If the flesh looks dull, it isn’t fresh.

“If you know what you’re buying, you can get the best salmon,” Patterson says.

Your taste buds will thank you.


Why eat salmon?

Lower in saturated fat than beef, salmon is a heart-healthy fish. It is richer in omega-3 fats, a type of health-promoting unsaturated fat, than most other fish varieties. Like most animal foods, it is rich in protein as well as many vitamins and minerals essential for human health.

Vitamin B rich: According to, a 3-ounce cooked portion of wild Atlantic salmon provides 0.41 mg, or 24 percent of the recommended daily value, for vitamin B2 and 8.6 mg of vitamin B3, or 42 percent of the daily value. These vitamins are important for energy metabolism as well as proper nervous system function.

Source of minerals: Salmon is a source of the major minerals phosphorus and potassium, meeting 21 percent and 22 percent of the daily value for each in a 3-ounce cooked portion, respectively. Phosphorus is needed to build and maintain strong bones. Potassium is important for regulating heartbeat and maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Cardiovascular benefits: According to an article published in October 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids promotes optimal health of the cardiovascular system. Researchers reported that eating two 4 ounce portions of fatty fish weekly, or those rich in the marine omega-3 fatty acids known as eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, reduces overall risk of dying by heart disease by a significant 36 percent as well as total mortality by 17 percent.


Try out these recipes:

Grilled Salmon with Citrus Salsa

For the salsa:

  • 2 large oranges
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salmon:

  • Vegetable or canola oil, for oiling the grill
  • 4 (4 to 5-ounce) center cut salmon fillets, skinned, each about 3-inches square
  • 2 tablespoons amber agave nectar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa: Peel and trim the ends from each orange. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, scallions, mint, capers, orange zest, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Toss lightly and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the salmon: Put a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Brush the grilling rack with vegetable oil to keep the salmon from sticking. Brush the salmon on both sides with the agave nectar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Grill until the fish flakes easily and is cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the salmon to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Spoon the salsa verde on top of the salmon or serve on the side as an accompaniment.

Source: Giada De Laurentiis

Smoked Salmon Thin-Crust Pizza

  • 1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounces bread flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup (3 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 4 (1/8-inch-thick) slices red onion, separated into rings
  • 3 ounces cold-smoked salmon, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Combine 1/2 cup warm water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached; let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Add oil and salt to yeast mixture. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Sprinkle flour over yeast mixture; mix 2 minutes or until a soft dough forms. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; cover surface of dough with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray. Refrigerate 24 hours.

Position an oven rack in the lowest setting. Place a pizza stone on lowest rack. Preheat oven to 550°. Preheat pizza stone 30 minutes before baking the dough.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Let stand, covered, 1 hour or until dough comes to room temperature. Punch dough down. Roll dough out to a very thin 14-inch circle on a lightly floured baking sheet, without raised edges, sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges to form a 1/2-inch border. Pierce dough several times with a fork.

Slide dough onto preheated pizza stone, using a spatula as a guide. Bake at 550° for 4 minutes. Remove from oven; spread cheese evenly over dough. Arrange capers and onion over cheese. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Top evenly with salmon; sprinkle with dill. Cut pizza into 8 wedges.

Source: “Cooking Light,” May 2010   

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