The Salmon Season:
King salmon: October to mid-April, mid-May to mid-September (the season that gets all the press noise)
Sockeye: mid-May to early September
Coho: early July to late September
Chum: early June to early October
Pink: early July to late August
Note that you can have more than one kind of salmon from the same river. That’s why you’ll see both King and Sockeye from the Copper River. The best fish, so the fishermen say, are those caught early at the mouth of the river because they have the most fat (good fat) and therefore the most flavor.
Is It Fresh?
Here are some tips to help you judge the freshness of fish:
- Tap the fish and feel for resiliency; the flesh should be firm and have a slight give when touched. If it’s soft or spongy, it’s old. Any separation between the skin and flesh is not good and also indicates the fish is old.
- Fresh fish will smell of the ocean and remind you of the seashore. The presence of bacteria is what gives fish a “fishy” smell.
- Contrary to the old adage, do not judge a fish only by its eyes. Some fish can have shiny eyes and still be old.
- When you bring fish home, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator (32F or lower) or keep it on ice until you’re ready to cook.
- Ask questions and make friends with your grocery store’s fishmonger to get the freshest and best fish.
Fresh vs. Frozen:
It used to be that unless you lived along the seacoast, the only fish available to buy was frozen. Now, faster transportation methods mean fresh fish is often sold in supermarkets. But there’s no reason not to buy frozen fish, and sometimes its quality may be even better than the fresh version. Alaskan fishermen, for example, have perfected flash freezing freshly caught salmon, halibut and other species on ocean trawlers as soon as it’s caught. Transported frozen to stores, this method generally ensures a superior product. If you have questions, talk to the folks in your supermarket’s fish department.
—By Judith Dern