What Does Salmon Taste Like?

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Nutritionists and dieticians have long touted the health benefits of regularly consuming salmon. This popular and versatile fish is good for you, and many people absolutely love the way it tastes.

In addition to being healthy, salmon is a fish with mild but rich flavor that can be slightly oily. It may be prepared in a wide variety of ways including baking, grilling and poaching. Preparation methods can affect the taste. For instance, smoked salmon has a distinctively smoky flavor while canned salmon can seem either oily or rather bland.

If you want to learn more about salmon and how to make it a regular part of your diet, keep reading. All of your salmon-related questions will be answered below.

What Is Salmon?

It is relatively easy to identify a filet of salmon thanks to its distinctive pinkish-orange coloring. Because they are found in both salt and fresh water, salmon are called an anadromous fish. The Pacific Ocean has the largest population of salmon, but the North Atlantic is its rival.

Salmon are large fish that average about 60 inches in length and can weigh more than 60 pounds. Thick gray skin covers its back while the belly skin is silver. Dark spots may be seen on the head and back. 

Salmon may be wild caught or farmed. Sometimes, the origin of the fish helps to determine its overall quality and flavor. Most experts agree that wild-caught salmon generally has better flavor and quality than farmed salmon. 

Salmon is rich and meaty. It also is not as flaky as other popular fish like halibut or sea bass. Popular around the world, salmon lends itself well to a wide variety of cuisines and flavors. It’s a fun food with which to experiment either by itself or as part of a recipe.

A Brief History of Eating Salmon

When you dine on salmon, it’s like taking a tour through history. That’s because the earliest known people to consume salmon lived in the Greek and Roman empires. Europeans soon picked up the habit as salmon was incredibly abundant in their rivers up to the beginning of the 18th century.

That era brought complication to the matter of finding enough salmon. The culprits were the building of dams, overfishing and pollution. In fact, salmon all but disappeared in many areas of Europe. 

The problem of insufficient salmon has largely been addressed today through the introduction of salmon farming. This practice also makes salmon more affordable in general. Still, many connoisseurs claim that farmed salmon cannot rival the flavor and texture of wild-caught salmon. 

Many Different Salmon Species

One factor that can have a huge impact on how salmon tastes is the species of salmon that you are eating. 

Wild-caught salmon virtually always comes from the Pacific Ocean. Any Atlantic salmon that are sold commercially were raised in farms.

In the Pacific Ocean, there are six varieties of salmon, and five of these are fished by boats from the U.S. and Canada. These five species are:

  • Sockeye
  • King
  • Silver
  • Pink
  • Chum

These species also may be called by alternative names. For example, king salmon frequently is referred to as Chinook salmon and silver salmon may be referred to as Coho salmon. 

Sockeye salmon, which is sometimes called red salmon, have particularly bright orange-red flesh. Their flavor is deep and rich, and the red name refers not only to the flesh but also the transformation of the sockeye’s skin from silver to red as they swim upstream to spawn.

King or Chinook salmon is widely regarded as the best-tasting of all the varieties of salmon. With a high fat content, king salmon have rich flesh that may be any color from white to deep red.

Silver salmon, otherwise known as Coho salmon, have an especially bright and silvery skin. Their flesh is a similar red color when compared to king salmon, but the texture tends to be more delicate.

Sometimes called a humpback salmon, the pink salmon is a very common species in the Pacific Ocean. When they spawn, they develop a noticeable hump on their backs, hence their other common name. Their flesh is light colored and has a mild flavor. It also has less fat content when compared with other varieties. Pink salmon are frequently used for canning, but it is possible to find them being sold smoked, frozen or fresh.

Thanks to its dog-like teeth, the chum salmon is sometimes called the dog salmon. With an average weight of eight pounds, the chum salmon is one of the smallest varieties. It has a lower fat content than other species, and its flesh may be pale to medium red. Chum or dog salmon frequently either is canned or frozen and sold to foreign markets.

All of the previous salmon species are commonly found in the Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic Ocean is home to just one species of salmon. It is most often simply called Atlantic salmon. In general, salmon are not wild caught in the Atlantic as they are farmed instead. Salmon farms have come up against sustainability obstacles in the recent past, but some of them are looking for new and innovative ways to make their operations more environmentally viable. If you are interested in Atlantic salmon and sustainability concerns you, it is worthwhile to inquire about the source of the fish to determine if it was sustainably raised.

The Color of Salmon Flesh Offers Clues

If you have not had salmon before and are concerned that you may not like the flavor, then it may make sense to choose a variety of salmon that has paler flesh. Basically, the paler the salmon’s flesh is, the milder its flavor. If you are thinking about ordering salmon in a restaurant, just ask your server how dark the salmon is. This can give you a good indication of how strong the flavor may be.

Why do some salmon have paler flesh while others have a bright pink, orange or red flesh? Mainly, it all comes down to diet.

The more krill the salmon feeds on, the darker or brighter its flesh is likely to be. 

How Can Salmon Be Prepared?

This is a difficult question simply because it has so many answers. People frequently bake, broil or grill salmon, but it also is possible to consume it raw. Poke, sashimi and sushi rolls all may include raw salmon.

Smoked salmon is popular too, particularly when it is served at breakfast on bagels. Did you know that salmon also can be deep fried? Think of it as a fun way to level-up fish sticks.

If you decide to grill your salmon filet, consider doing so on a cedar plank to provide extra flavor. Another delicious and convenient option is to mix canned salmon with mayonnaise and seasonings to make a salmon salad sandwich. Salmon burgers and cakes are popular too.

What Does Raw Salmon Taste Like?

Uncooked salmon does not have an overpowering fishy stink. Nonetheless, you may get a whiff of something fishy and salty from filets that you are planning to cook. It’s more of a refreshing ocean breeze than the odor from a garbage dump. 

If you are going to consume the salmon raw, then it is critical that its smell is salty, light and oily, but there should be no hint of a fishy scent. This absence of a fish odor is owed to the higher quality of the sushi salmon. Accordingly, it is essential that you choose the correct salmon if you plan to eat it raw. 

The texture of raw salmon generally is rich, fatty and smooth. If you touch the flesh with your fingers, it will bounce back. Slicing it should be easy, but if you notice a sticky or stringy texture, then it’s time to throw that salmon away.

When you bite into raw salmon, you will probably notice a light, fresh flavor that is slightly citrusy. Because of its high fat content, it has a buttery taste and practically melts in your mouth. Pair your raw salmon with soy or ponzu sauce.

What Does Baked or Poached Salmon Taste Like?

After it is baked or poached, salmon usually has a rich smell, but the scent will be heavily influenced by any herbs, spices and other ingredients you may have used. As an example, you might marinate a salmon filet in a honey mustard glaze that would give it a tangy, sweet smell. 

Another popular preparation method is poaching in coconut milk and curry, giving the dish a spicy, mildly sweet smell. Salmon that has been baked or poached should not have a fishy smell. If it does, then it has gone bad.

Baked salmon has a flaky, smooth texture with the flesh practically falling apart. The texture should be buttery smooth if the salmon was properly prepared. Poached salmon has a similar texture, but it may be softer because of being cooked in liquid. Accordingly, it will not be quite so flaky.

Whether it is baked or poached, the salmon will have a creamy, light and buttery flavor that is mixed with the other seasonings and ingredients in the dish. Before baking, consider marinating salmon filets in herbs and seasonings such as citrus, garlic, Dijon, chipotle, dill and others. 

Prepare poached salmon with coconut milk, peppers and cilantro for a Thai influence or simply season broth with garlic, parsley and thyme.

What Does Grilled Salmon Taste Like?

Grilled salmon has a great deal in common with baked or poached salmon. Generally, it will smell like the sauces, spices or herbs that you use to prepare it. However, you may notice that grilled salmon also takes on a smoky scent because of how it is prepared. Grilling on a cedar plank will give the filet a combination of smoky and earthy scents.

The texture of grilled salmon is similar to that of baked salmon in that it is smooth and flaky. Its flavor will vary depending upon whether you prepare it over an open flame or charcoal. When it is ready to be eaten, grilled salmon likely will have a smoky, rich, buttery flavor. Many cooks prefer to use minimal ingredients when grilling salmon. Consider basic options such as butter or oil, garlic, lemon, salt and pepper.

What Does Fried Salmon Taste Like?

Battered in flour, breadcrumbs or other additions, fried salmon will smell and taste much different than other preparations of salmon. Fried salmon can have a crunchy texture, and the type of oil in which it is fried also can affect the smell and the taste.

Crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside, fried salmon has a salty flavor on the exterior but is smooth and buttery otherwise. Serve this dish with cocktail or tartar sauce, or make them the central ingredient in salmon tacos.

What Does Smoked Salmon Taste Like?

You’ll probably notice a distinctive fishy smell when you open up smoked salmon. Hints of salt and smoke may be detectable as well. 

As far as consistency goes, smoked salmon is similar to raw, but you may notice a slightly greater amount of grit because of the smoking process. This process also affords a unique flavor. Smoked salmon has a mildly fishy flavor that also is smoky and salty. Consider serving it on bagels with cream cheese.

What Does Canned Salmon Taste Like?

Canned salmon is fully cooked and is canned in liquid. This gives it a particularly soft and malleable texture. Out of all preparation methods, canning makes salmon the softest.

You may notice a mildly fishy, salty smell when you open up the can. The flavor is surprisingly bland, especially if it is packed in water. Oil packing yields a more flavorful end product. This mild flavor means that canned salmon is best suited to being incorporated into a salmon salad, salmon cakes or salmon burgers.

Are You Ready to Try Salmon?

Salmon comes in several varieties and can be prepared in an almost countless number of ways. Choose a lighter-colored flesh if you are looking for milder flavor, but you may want to step up to darker flesh once you fall in love with the taste of this popular fish.

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