Cooking With Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye Salmon: Big Color, Big Salmon Flavor

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Sockeye salmon is one of a trinity of prized Pacific salmon. Along with the silver (coho) and king (chinook) salmon, sockeyes are the most sought-after species in the Pacific.

What's So Hot About Sockeye?

Sockeyes are not the largest salmon in the Pacific, topping out at only about 6 pounds. And they're not the fattiest, either. That would be the king salmon. Nope, sockeye gets a bigs thumb up as the yummiest salmon because they are the most "salmon-y" tasting.

What Gives Sockeye Its Flavor and Texture?

Sockeyes are very full-flavored, almost strong. And they taste faintly like crab, in no small part because sockeyes, also known as a blueback, dine mostly on small crustaceans such as krill. This is why another name for them is "reds," although this could be because they turn bright red when ready to spawn.

Sockeyes also are the firmest salmon, possibly because they have the longest migration patterns and range. They can be caught anywhere from Hokkaido in Japan to the Columbia River in Oregon, but most are caught in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Copper River Sockeye Salmon

Sockeyes from the Copper River are especially prized and can command exorbitant prices, but flash-frozen sockeye from the supermarket is almost as good -- at half the price.

Sockeye Safe for Sushi

Sockeyes very often are used in canned salmon, both because they are plentiful (and very sustainably caught, according to several watchdog groups) and, because sockeye's meat is so red, it looks good in the can.

Flash-frozen sockeye can be eaten raw safely. The Japanese use sockeye as one of their favorite salmon to eat as sashimi.

Cooking Sockeye

Cooking wise, know that sockeye is firm and can be overcooked easier than any other salmon.

Under the fire, sockeye is best prepared simply. This is not the fish to use with complex sauces.

Grill it over a hardwood fire or on a cedar plank.

If you're indoors, sear it simply in a pan, broil it or poach it -- either in fish stock or under oil.

Sockeye really only needs salt, a squeeze of lemon or a simple sauce to go with it. A Japanese sake-and-soy based sauce is a good choice, as is something like parsley butter or a white wine sauce.

And, as the second-fattiest salmon after chinook, sockeye smokes beautifully.

The Bottom Line

Sockeye salmon demands to be eaten as is. Cook it in a way that highlights its assertive flavor, or eat it raw. If you want to hide salmon in a cream sauce or in a curry, use farmed salmon instead. Let sockeye shine.