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October 2005 Issue
by Robbin Orbison
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Ok, So Let’s Cook Some!

I hope that you are now much more familiar with the wonderful salmon and your mind is at ease about its health properties. So let’s put all that technical stuff aside and talk about eating it. Salmon is delicious almost any way you cook it, and there are so many ways. First let’s talk about how to purchase it.

I avoid prepackaged salmon mostly because the packages rarely contain enough information to make an educated purchase. The exception is canned salmon, which almost always indicates the species and those are usually non-farmed species. I highly recommend purchasing fresh fish only from a reputable fish market. If the labels are unclear, ask. Sometimes you’ll just see salmon labeled “salmon.” Price will give you a good idea of whether it is wild or farmed. Wild salmon can cost up to twice as much as farmed. Recently, some markets have started to identify their farmed product with the labels “farmed” or “color added” or “organic.” But the market staff should be able to tell you what type of salmon it is and where it came from. If they can’t, find another market.

Fresh salmon can be found in three cuts – filets, steaks, and whole. I advocate filets as easiest to work with, and all recipes in this article will use filets. You will sometimes see filets labeled as either tail cut or center cut. This labeling means what it sounds like, the tail cut is closer to the tail and generally considered less desirable. When cooking and serving whole filets, the center cut cooks more evenly because it is a more uniform thickness, and it looks nicer on a plate. But in recipes where these are not issues, the tail cut can be less expensive and I find almost no difference in taste.

If you do purchase tail cut filets and are concerned about uniform cooking, just pin the thinner belly flaps to the thicker part of the fish with a skewer or string to create more even thickness during cooking.

Salmon is not a bony fish, but even the best filets often come with a few pin bones. These are easily found by running your finger up and down the center of the filet, and they are easily removed with tweezers or pliers. Some cooking supply purveyors even sell special fish bone tweezers which are fun to use but not at all necessary.

Salmon filets always come with the skin on. If you are preparing a recipe that calls for skinless salmon, the easiest way to handle this is to ask your fishmonger to remove the skin for you. If not, it is easy to remove with a sharp knife. Just start at the edge of the filet, just under the skin, and peel the skin back as you go.

Since salmon is such a popular fish, there are thousands of recipes that can be found in books, magazines, and on the internet. Extremely popular are recipes for poaching and grilling and other methods that treat the salmon as the protein centerpiece of a meal, and understandably highlight its magnificent flavor and texture. I’d like to offer some recipes with some other factors in mind. Wild salmon can be expensive, so recipes like Salmon Wontons in Shitake Mushroom Broth, and Salmon Casserole can stretch smaller amounts of salmon into more servings. Salmon Burgers and Mustard Encrusted Salmon are interesting approaches, as well as possible ways of introducing salmon to fish skeptics who think that only beef or chicken will do.

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