Like the first pitch on opening day, the appearance of those bright, orange-fleshed fillets on the stand after an absence of months generates cheers from the crowds and marks the unofficial start of warm weather season.
Wild salmon’s return feels as sure a sign of spring as robins or daffodils. The difference in flavor and texture between wild and farmed salmon is pronounced. We carry wonderful, sustainably-farm-raised Faroe Island salmon year round, but many of our customers know that the wild fish provide a particular culinary reward.
Bursting with flavor and silky on the palate, wild salmon are nutritionally dense as well. Loaded with famously good-for-your-heart omega-3 fatty acids, wild salmon is also high in Vitamins B12, B6, niacin, riboflavin, assorted minerals, and amino acids. One single serving can afford you as much as 75% of your daily required protein.
Here are some of the 2013 harvest you’ll find at Union Market:
Alaskan King Salmon
Also known as Chinook Salmon, Kings are the largest species of Pacific salmon. They average three feet in length and can weigh as much as 100 pounds. Young King Salmon spend an average of three to four years in the ocean before heading to their home rivers for spawning. They remain in the fresh water for another year or more, and then swim down to the transitional saltwater estuaries for another several months before returning to the sea.
King Salmon’s habitat ranges as far south as San Francisco Bay and north and west above the Bering Strait and to the Russian coast. Their unusually long migration routes (over 1,000 miles along the Yukon River, for example) require them to store higher amounts of naturally healthy oils for survival. This translates to the plate in larger, juicier fillets that remain tender and tasty no matter how you choose to cook them.
Season: April - September
Peak: July - August
Coho run both sides of the North Pacific, from Japan and Russian, across the Bering Sea to Alaska and as far south as Northern California. A fair amount of historical reverence and mysticism come with Coho salmon. In the prefecture of Chiba, Japan it is the state animal. Coastal Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest used it for trade with inland tribes, and it is still regarded as a totem symbolizing life and sustenance.
The adult salmon are smaller than the King/Chinook, maxing out at around 30 pounds. They spend no more than three years at sea before returning to fresh water to spawn. They are slightly less fatty than other wild salmon, providing a firmer textured, full flavored fillet. Perfect for broiling, the smaller size also makes it an excellent candidate for either pan-searing or a quick grill.
Season: July - September
The name “sockeye” is a somewhat sloppy Anglo translation from the Salish Native American word “suk-kegh,” which simply means “red fish.” Sockeye of both sexes turn from their natural silver to red just prior to spawning.
Sockeye differ from other wild salmon in two ways. First, they tend to spend more time in fresh water after birth, particularly in lakes, as long as four years. It takes another four years at sea for them to fully mature. Further, their diet consists almost exclusively of zooplankton, a plankton strain that feeds itself on phytoplankton and other microorganisms, making it kind of a superfood. When they reach the ocean, sockeye expand their diet to include orange krill, the tiny, tiny shrimp that are a staple for whales. This contributes towards sockeye’s near-crimson flesh. Sockeye are considered to have the strongest flavor and firmest flesh of all the Pacific Northwest wilds.
Season: June - September
A steelhead salmon that never returns to the ocean from its fresh water hatching grounds is a Rainbow Trout. Steelhead has the unique distinction of being the only salmon that can survive its spawning period and can reproduce three or four times before passing on.
Steelhead actually makes two runs in both winter and spring. There is often steelhead available throughout the year, with early spring being the peak of the season. They grow to between two and three feet in length and have a lighter color and more delicate but distinct flavor.
Season: January - April
Peak: April - May
Copper River Salmon
A slightly misleading name, in that it describes the place where the fish come from and is not actually the name of a fish. Several species make their migration along this Alaska river, one of the most arduous of journeys, over 300 miles and an ascent of over 1,000 feet. The extra oils salmon need to store in order to make the migration provides us with superior seafood. Amongst the first wild salmon to arrive annually on the commercial market, types of Copper River Salmon will include Chinook, Sockeye and Coho.
Season: May - August