Fresh wild salmon, with a firm flesh and rich flavor from the cold ocean and food it eats, is in season from late spring through early fall. Salmon is such a versatile fish to cook with, delicious and quick and easy to get on the table. It is high in brain-boosting omega-3 fats, easy on your wallet and one of America’s go-to seafood choices.
While many consumers are in tune with where their food comes from, even the savviest shoppers may not realize wild Alaskan salmon has five varietals: king, sockeye, coho, pink and keta. Each has a distinctive flavor and texture.
King salmon earns its title. The largest of the Pacific salmon, a single king can weigh more than 100 pounds, though typically they’re about 20 to 30 pounds. King salmon is prized for its silky red flesh, buttery texture and a high oil content that gives it a luxurious flavor. King salmon from Copper River in south-central Alaska are among the first salmon commercially harvested in the state each year.
Sockeye, also called red salmon, is known for its distinct, bright red flesh that retains its color even once cooked. It is prized for its firm, fatty meat and its pronounced buttery flavor. Sockeye is eaten for both its meat and for its roe, which is used as salmon caviar for sushi. Nearly all of the country’s sockeye comes from Alaska, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the world’s largest harvest landing at Bristol Bay in the southwestern part of the state. Sockeye’s color and texture make it ideal for canning. Like king salmon, the first sockeyes of the season usually come from Copper River and hit the markets May through June. It is my favorite salmon for salmon cakes, barbecued on a plank and roasted in the oven.
Coho, also known as silver salmon for its bright silver sides, offers a lighter, more distinctly flavored fish than king or sockeye. Coho’s orange-red flesh is slightly fatty, flakes well and is firm. It has bright flavor because of the lack of fat and pairs well with pesto, olive tapenade and peppery salads.
Pink salmon, with its delicate flavor, rosy pink flesh and a texture similar to trout, offers a blank canvas for sauces and other flavorings. Pink salmon is extremely lean, with soft meat and a small flake. As with keta, pink salmon benefits from fat and dairy to mellow it out.
Keta salmon, also called chum, has pale orange, red or pink flesh and a pronounced flavor. Chum has a lower oil content than other wild salmon and a meaty, firm texture. Keta roe also is used in sushi. It has thinner flesh, lots of protein and lower fat.
Always check your salmon for bones. To do this, gently rub your hand over the flesh, going against the grain. The bones should be in a line running the length of the fish. Use tweezers or needle pliers to remove. To remove the skin from salmon, place the fillet, skin-side down, on a cutting board. Holding the tail end firmly, use a sharp knife to make a cut between the flesh and skin in the opposite direction from the tail end. Holding the end tightly, continue to cut and pull the skin away along the length of the fillet.
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A note about the recipe below: You can make fresh bread crumbs from day-old French, Italian bread, sturdy white or whole wheat sandwich bread. Just pulse a few times in the food processor until coarse crumbs form. Toast on a half sheet pan in a thin layer in a 350-degree oven just until golden brown. Store any leftovers in the freezer in a zip-top bag for fresh bread crumbs anytime.
Salmon Cakes with Remoulade Sauce
For the salmon cakes:
2 pounds fresh salmon, skin and small bones removed
1 cup homemade bread crumbs (add more if the mixture is too soft)
1 cup Ritz crackers, crushed
½ cup mayonnaise, low-fat or regular
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely minced, no stems
¼ cup fresh green onions, sliced thin, green and white parts
2 large eggs
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old Bay seafood seasoning
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic-pepper seasoning blend
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
For the coating:
1 cup plain panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons Old Bay seafood seasoning
½ cup canola oil, or more if needed
For the remoulade sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise, low-fat or regular
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced, green and white parts
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely minced, no stems
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons drained capers
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and then top with a rack insert. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Make the salmon cakes: Chop salmon coarsely by hand or use a food processor and pulse just a few times. To a large mixing bowl, add all the salmon cake ingredients. Gently mix until evenly combined. Form into 12 patties (⅓ cup each) for a dinner entree, or make them smaller for appetizers.
Make the coating: Mix the panko and Old Bay seasoning in a flat dish. Coat the top and bottom of each patty in the panko mixture. Arrange cakes in a single row on a platter and refrigerate to firm up while you make the remoulade sauce.
Make the remoulade sauce: In a medium mixing bowl, stir all the sauce ingredients together until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, add the canola oil and heat over medium-high just until the oil is shimmering. Fry about 6 salmon cakes at a time, until brown on each side. They will continue to cook in the oven. Repeat with the remaining salmon cakes and add more oil if needed. Maintain the oil temperature for a crisp coating.
Arrange the salmon cakes on the rack in the sheet pan and bake for about 15 minutes or until cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature with the remoulade sauce on the side and lemon wedges scattered around the cakes.
Makes about 12 patties, or more for appetizers.
Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski