Kuskokwim Kings (or, how to know good salmon when you see it)
Growing up fishing for salmon with my dad in Alaska, I took for granted a lot of knowledge that many people don't seem to have. Here are a few tips:
When buying salmon, make sure that the flesh is firm and bright. Nothing compares to fresh wild Alaskan salmon, but if fresh fish is not available, buy fish that is still frozen rather than fish that has been thawed out and put on display. Frozen salmon should always be packed in a way that separates air from the flesh to avoid freezer burn. High quality salmon is more expensive per pound, but has a higher omega-3 fatty acid content and should be served in smaller portions.
The classic salmon recipe calls for poaching with dill and capers. This is a great way to make a wonderful piece of fish mediocre by sapping rather than cultivating its flavor. I believe that grilling is the best method for cooking salmon, but in less pleasant weather broiling and baking are good substitutes. Filets of salmon should be placed skin side down on the cooking surface. My father often places the fish on a layer of foil to keep the skin from sticking to the grill or burning, but I enjoy it when the skin crisps up.
Salmon is almost always overcooked in restaurants. To tell when salmon is done, slide a utensil between the layers of muscle and gently rotate; ideally the whole layer will flake off. As salmon cooks, the color changes from bright to creamy pink. Appropriately cooked salmon will be a uniform color and melt in the mouth. Different areas of the same filet may cook at different rates, so it may be necessary to remove thinner areas of the filet from the heat so they will not overcook while the thicker parts continue cooking. This might be detrimental to presentation, but the flavor and mouth feel will be worth it.
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