While wild salmon are caught in North America, northern Europe and elsewhere, much of today’s salmon supply is farmed. Atlantic salmon are farmed around the world and account for more than 95% of all the pen-raised salmon (the remainder is Cohoe), and five large companies produce half the world’s farmed salmon. (It takes about 30 to 36 months to raise an Atlantic salmon from an egg to a market size of about 10 pounds.) While farming makes salmon accessible to more people, it does not produce as fine a product as wild salmon: Fish live in tanks with their own waste instead of flowing streams and rivers, and are fed antibiotics. A synthetic carotenoid pigment is added to their feed to achieve the reddish-orange color that wild salmon get naturally from eating carotenoid-rich shrimp and other natural feed. In addition to the Atlantic salmon:
Cohoes or “silvers” are the middle-of-the-road salmon. The resource isn’t that big, and though it can be an excellent eating fish, it’s not as highly regarded as a king or a sockeye salmon. Seventy percent of world production is farmed. They weigh 2 to 12 pounds.
Keta or Chum salmon have an excellent texture, attractive meat color and a lower oil content that helps to give them a mild, delicate flavor. This species is the meatiest with the firmest texture of the wild salmon. Most weigh from 4 to 13 pounds.
- Cohoe or silver salmon: farmed, middle-of-the-road.
- Keta or chum salmon: meatiest wild salmon.
- King salmon: the biggest and most prized.
- Pink Salmon: the largest volume.
- Sockeye salmon: the “red salmon” money crop of wild salmon.
King salmon, a.k.a. Chinook, are the largest and most prized of the wild salmon: big, silvery, fighting fish, with a rich red meat. They are found on the eastern North Pacific, from the Yukon River in Alaska to the Sacramento River in central California. The most famous and highly-prized for their fat marbling are Alaska’s Copper River salmon, along with the Copper River sockeye, which are the first major variety of wild salmon to come to market each year (the Copper River empties into the Gulf of Alaska, the season begins May 14 and lasts a month). It has more fats than other species, providing more flavor. King salmon typically weigh from 5 to 40 pounds, but can exceed 100 pounds.
Pink salmon are the largest in volume (200 million return to the rivers and streams of North America in good summer). In terms of size, though, pinks are the smallest of the five species of Pacific salmon, averaging just 3 pounds.
Sockeye salmon are the money fish in the wild salmon business, with the reddest flesh and highest level of omega-3 essential fatty acids. They weigh up to 15 pounds. Alaska produces more than 75% of the world’s sockeye harvest. About 60% of the North American harvest is exported to Japan and 30% is canned for domestic consumption.
Note that the thinner, sloping portion of the fillet contains more fat marbling and is therefore more flavorful than the thicker portion.