I spent most of my life disliking the flavor of salmon. Growing up most of the salmon I ate came from a can and was served in “patty” form. As I worked in casual dining restaurants I would occasionally try the salmon dishes only to be turned off by the lingering flavors it would leave with me. It was not until working at an upscale seafood restaurant that I learned what good salmon tasted like. This is the equivalent of someone disliking beef based upon the experience with $2 steaks.
Very few proteins vary as much in flavor as salmon. The difference in taste between imported farm-raised salmon and wild caught Alaskan King salmon is as wide as the difference between Boone’s Farm and Moet Chandon. Knowing what type of salmon to order in a restaurant is the key to a guest’s enjoyment of a salmon dish. Knowing the differences between them and which to recommend is the job of a great server. Basic salmon knowledge is vital to every server dealing with seafood on his or her menu.
There are many books and websites dedicated to all facets of salmon. Wild vs farmed. Atlantic vs pacific. Chinook vs sockeye. I am not going to attempt to give you every detail available about salmon. Instead over the next few Fridays I will outline some basics of salmon, the different species, the environmental impacts, and of course the flavors. Today we will begin with the differences between farm-raised salmon and those that are caught wild.
Basic Salmon Facts
- Salmon are anadromous which means in their life cycle they will live in both fresh and salt water.
- Salmon are carnivores (meat eaters).
- Salmon require cold oxygen rich water,
- At the end of their life cycle salmon will return to the same stream they were born in to spawn. Often times spawning within feet of where they were born. Scientists are puzzled by this phenomenon but it has been linked to a salmon’s sense of smell.
- After spawning nearly all salmon die.
Over two thirds of all salmon is farm-raised. This process is done in two stages. For the first 6-18 months after hatching, the salmon are kept in land based fresh water pools or man made raceways next to existing streams. After this time they are transferred to ocean based pens or cages. These are large duel layered nets that allow the salmon room to grow while currents help clean away waste. The salmon are fed a feed that is very high in fishmeal and fish oils. The diet is enhanced with chemicals to give the salmon the reddish color consumers expect.
Wild salmon generally follow their natural life cycle. After spending between one and five years at sea it is caught entering the mouth of the major rivers as it returns to spawn. Wild salmon are usually caught by gillnets, trolling, or purse seine. Wild salmon has much higher nutritional values due to their diet at sea. Wild salmon in North America are caught primarily in the northwest, but stretch as far south as the San Francisco Bay. In recent years California, Oregon, and Washington have place harsh restrictions on commercial salmon fishing due to low numbers of returning salmon, but they have been eased this year. Alaska is the largest wild salmon producing state. Alaska highly regulates commercial salmon fishing for sustainability and runs several hatcheries. These hatcheries differ from salmon farming operations by releasing the salmon into the wild as they approach maturity.
This basic overview will provide the basis for much more detailed discussions of salmon in the next few weeks. The different species of salmon each have unique flavors and nutritional benefits. The environmental impacts of farm-raising salmon and by-catch in the wild will also be discussed. Salmon’s cousins the Steelhead and Artic Char will round out the topic. The best way to keep up to date on these topics is to subscribe on the right side of the page or join the facebook fan page.
In the meantime a friendly blogger put out a great post on how to be a better server that merits a read.