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Cooking with Sockeye Salmon

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Sockeye and Silver salmon

Sockeye and Silver Salmon

Getty Images/Paul Edmonson

Sockeye Salmon -- Big Color, Big Salmon Flavor:

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.

Why? They're not the largest, topping out at only about 6 pounds. They're not the fattiest, either. That's the king salmon. Nope, sockeyes get my nod as the yummiest salmon because they are the most "salmon-y" tasting.

Sockeyes are very full-flavored, almost strong. And their flavor is faintly crab-like -- in no small part because this fish, also known as a blueback, dines mostly on small crustaceans such as krill. This is why another name for them are "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. Sockeyes from the Copper River are especially prized and can command exorbitant prices, but I have found that flash-frozen sockeye from Full Circle in the supermarket is almost as good -- at half the price.

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

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

I love raw sockeye, and the flash-fozen product is safe to use this way. The Japanese agree with me, apparently, as sockeye is one of their favorite salmon to eat as sashimi.

Under the fire, sockeye is best done simply. Really. This is not the fish to use with complex sauces. My advice: 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.

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.

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