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King or Chinook Salmon

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King Salmon sport catch, Southeast Alaska. USA
Joel Bennett/Photolibrary/Getty Images

What You Need to Know about King Salmon:

King salmon is so called for a reason. It is the largest salmon in the world and many think it is the best tasting, although the silver and sockeye have tjeir fans. Also called the chinook salmon, king salmon can grow well over 100 pounds and can vary wildly in flavor.

From an eating standpoint, ocean-caught fish are the finest flavored. At their best, kings are a blinding chrome on the outside, with meat that is a vibrant orange inside. So-called "bright" salmon caught in rivers are also good eating, but once the fish begin to turn dark or, even worse, red, they rapidly become useless for all but pet food: the meat becomes watery, mushy and tasteless, often with an undertone of mud. Not good eats.

A wild, ocean-caught or even a bright river-caught salmon will always taste better than a farm-raised salmon. But a farm-raised fish will surpass a poor quality river fish, and are often fattier. Remember that all farmed salmon are Atlantic salmon, which is a different species.

You must assume every salmon you see in the market that is listed just as "salmon" will be farm-raised. Wild fish command higher prices and will be advertised as such. There are numerous environmental concerns over farm raising salmon, so be aware that this is not yet an ecologically friendly fishery.

Alaskan wild salmon, however, remains so, as does the fishery from Washington state. California king salmon vary widely in numbers from year to year and are currently at a low point in their population cycle.

From a cooking standpoint, kings are extremely versatile.

They are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, and that fat makes a king salmon very forgiving to a novice cook. Salmon fat can be so creamy that a sushi-grade salmon belly is, at least in my opinion, superior to that of toro tuna. And every part of a chinook lends itself to grilling, slow barbecuing and especially the even slower process of smoking.

But this fat is also salmon's enemy, as it goes rancid fast. Even the best frozen fish will not keep at its prime condition in a home freezer more than three months. If you find yourself with more salmon than you can eat in that time, my advice is to make friends and give some away.

A word on salmon skin: Don't waste it. Once it's been scaled, salmon skin crisps up beautifully and can be served as the fishy equivalent of chicarrones, or deep-friend pork rinds. Trust me on this one, crispy salmon skin is a treat not to be missed.

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