7 secrets to choosing the best salmon, according to chefs

7 secrets to choosing the best salmon, according to chefs

Stocking your fridge or freezer with salmon is a smart idea—the fish is packed with muscle-building protein, anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and metabolism-supporting minerals. Plus, there are so many ways to cook salmon that it’s hard to get bored. But harvesting quality fish is just as important as how you cook it. The search for a delicious dinner starts at the grocery store.

With that in mind, we spoke to a handful of professional chefs to get their expert opinion on how to pick the best fresh salmon in stock while grocery shopping. Read on to learn the secret to choosing the best salmon in the store—and for more secret nutritional hacks, be sure to also check out the diet secrets of the world’s longest living people.


Do not stick to wild and farmed fish

raw wild versus farmed salmon fillets in parchment paper

raw wild versus farmed salmon fillets in parchment paper

Not sure if you want to spend the extra cash on wild-caught versus farmed salmon? Larry Whitehead chef and owner of Lo Lo’s Chicken&Waffles, Brunch&Sip and Monroe’s Hot Chicken, claims both have unique benefits.

“Although farm-raised salmon is usually frowned upon, there are technologies that make it incredibly safe to eat,” says White. Eat this, not that! “Farmed salmon has a lower cost and is a sustainable alternative to traditionally caught salmon. Both types retain some nutrients. For example, farmed salmon has more fat while wild salmon has more calcium, zinc and potassium.”


The flesh of the salmon should be red

raw salmon

raw salmon

Color and moisture are great ways to tell if salmon is fresh or not.

“There should be no brown or other discolored spots on the salmon,” explains White. “Salmon should look anywhere from bright pink to deep red. Avoid any salmon that looks pale.”


Salmon should not smell like fish

The chef check is fresh salmon

The chef check is fresh salmon

I know this can be scary – if fresh salmon isn’t supposed to smell like fish, then what is it supposed to smell like?

“Fish shouldn’t smell like fish. They should smell like the ocean,” he says Chef Hector Diazchef de cuisine at La Grande Boucherie in New York.

If the salmon smells fishy or sour, that’s a sign it’s gone rancid and isn’t safe to eat, according to the FDA. This logic applies to both whole fish and fillets.


The texture should be firm

Man cutting fresh salmon with dill and lemon

Man cutting fresh salmon with dill and lemon

All the chefs we consulted agree that mushy salmon is a major no-no.

“You’re always looking for firmness when it comes to fresh salmon,” he says Chef George Jewell, executive chef at Clutch Restaurant in Atlanta. “Try to avoid mushy salmon – that’s a key indicator that it’s not fresh.”

In addition to being firm, the skin of the salmon should be moist and smooth.

“If the fish is dressed [aka when the guts have been cleaned out and the tail, fins, head, and scales have all been removed]a run of the finger down the belly should feel moist,” says Diaz.


Get fresh salmon in season

For the freshest salmon, it’s best to get it locally and in season.

“It’s best to buy wild salmon during the season, which is usually from May to September,” says Jewell. “Of course, you can get wild salmon at other times – but if you get it during this time, try to get frozen wild salmon. This is because frozen is usually frozen immediately and shipped, which allows it to remain tasty and is maintained [the most] Nutrients.”

“Although technology like flash-freezing helps salmon lock in its freshness and flavor, go for local salmon to make sure you’re getting the freshest fish,” adds White.


Avoid freezer burn salmon

frozen salmon

frozen salmon

If you choose frozen salmon, sometimes its packaging hides the fish’s imperfections. If the package is transparent, watch out for ice crystals and freezer burn.

“This tells you that the salmon was either refrozen after thawing or it’s not the best quality. Those are two things you want to avoid,” says Jewell.


The eyes should be shiny and the fins intact

raw salmon

raw salmon

If it’s a whole fish, make sure the eyes are clear – not shiny. According to Diaz, shiny eyes are a telltale sign that the fish has been sitting out a little too long. Diaz also suggests evaluating the fins on your whole fish, as these should be intact with no tears.

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