There are a lot of reasons why salmon is one of the most healthy, versatile proteins we can enjoy. But whether you enjoy it raw in sushi, poached, baked, or prepared otherwise, there are about as many ways to enjoy salmon as there are misconceptions about this type of fish. "The one I hear most is it is so fishy," Laura Pauli, chef at Cucina Testa Rossa in San Francisco, told Tasting Table. "My French chef in cooking school would retort in exasperation, in a very thick accent, ‘of course it tastes fishy, it is a fish’!"
Now, that might be true about the often-maligned bluefish, which is indeed very oily and comes with a powerful odor, according to The New York Times, but that’s simply not so with salmon. Instead, salmon falls between bluefish and, say, a mild sole or cod. Salmon is also a sturdy fish that can stand up to freezing, broiling, grilling while still offering up a delicate and buttery texture if cooked via a gentler technique like sous vide. It’s a fish that can be quickly cooked in a myriad of ways, and it’s just as delicious thawed as if it were fresh.
That said, salmon is also often misunderstood. There are quite a few myths and misconceptions surrounding it that may just get in the way of you enjoying this unique and flavorful fish to its fullest, most delicious potential. Here are the salmon myths you can truly disregard.
Bright pink salmon indicates the best quality of fish
When you shop for salmon, what’s the first thing you do? You probably look at the fish through the glass case at the grocery store, right? Most people look for things like color and an overall healthy appearance. After all, you wouldn’t buy fish that looks pale, as many would assume that the fish is, therefore, "bad". But what many people don’t realize is that some salmon has color and food dyes added to it to make it look healthier and more vibrant. According to Food & Wine, darker-colored salmon tends to sell better.
But farm-raised salmon, which actually makes up most of the salmon on the market, according to the World Wildlife Fund, isn’t always a natural dark red. But that’s actually not a problem, at least not when it comes to flavor and nutrition. "Farm-raised salmon is naturally gray; the pink color is added," explains Food & Wine. So the color of a salmon doesn’t actually tell how healthy or tasty it will be, because that color itself may have been added!
Salmon should be flaky
Another common salmon cooking myth is that you can tell salmon is fully cooked when it flakes easily. In fact, not all salmon cooks evenly, which will affect that final flaky texture. "Salmon filets, which are the most common cut of salmon, tend to be thicker near the pectoral fins and thinner near the tail," chef Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon told Tasting Table. Depending on the cooking method, says Randhawa, "the tail meat can quickly be fully cooked and flakey, while the thicker meat is still uncooked on the pectoral end."
The USDA recommends checking that the internal temperature of fish has reached at least 145° F with a thermometer. "I always have a digital thermometer handy for all my cooking, especially meats, to ensure that the internal temperature is perfect for my making," said Randhawa. Be sure to check the thickest part of the salmon to make sure that all the meat is fully and safely cooked. One pro tip courtesy of Randhawa is that salmon continues to cook even when removed from the oven, so you can usually pull it out at about 140° F. Then it will make up those last few degrees outside the oven for a perfectly cooked result.
You shouldn’t eat salmon skin
There’s a misconception that the skin on salmon should be removed because it contains fat. While salmon’s skin is indeed fatty, it contains healthy fat that can and should be consumed, including omega-3 fatty acids (via Healthline). There’s an added benefit of eating the skin, too. "The skin actually works as a protectant for the salmon when you’re cooking it to keep it from getting too brown and dried out," Christine Pittman, founder of Cook the Story, told Tasting Table. Pittman shared that one of her favorite ways to cook salmon is to cook it skin side up using the broiler or air fryer.
The skin is one of the best parts of the fish, frankly. Not only is it delicious, but it crisps beautifully as well. "Salmon skin will help to keep your fish moist while cooking and also serves as a great source of omega-3 [fatty acids]," Maille mustard sommelier and chef Brandon Collins told Tasting Table. You can even turn the skin into delicious fish crisps for a snack!
The "white stuff" on salmon is bad
Because most people don’t know what this quasi-mysterious "white stuff" is, it doesn’t appear on your salmon at restaurants and can be unsightly. "Whether cultivated or wild, baked or grilled, you will likely run into the issue of albumin, or "the white stuff," appearing on your cooked fish," chef and blogger Stephanie Harris-Uyidi told Tasting Table. "According to Donald Kramer of the University of Alaska’s Seafood Science Department, albumin lives in fish in liquid form and appears when the muscle fibers are heated and they contract, pushing out the white-colored protein," said Harris-Uyidi. This means that the "white stuff", which is simply a natural part of the fish’s body, is safe to eat.
Although it’s okay to consume, albumin can ruin the look of salmon for chefs and cooks. While this white stuff can appear haphazardly and can’t be predicted, there are a few ways to help reduce or eliminate its appearance. If you want to avoid the albumin, you can quickly brine your fish prior to cooking, which will help break down the protein. Harris-Uyidi recommends a quick soak in a blend of sea salt and water — one tablespoon of salt per cup of water, to be specific — which will help relax and dissolve the muscle fibers and minimize the appearance of albumin.
Another important way to avoid "the white stuff" is to avoid overcooking your fish. "You can achieve this by cooking your salmon at a lower temperature," said Harris-Uyidi.
Salmon is expensive
Most salmon that you find at your local grocery store is farm-raised, which actually tends to be quite affordable compared to its wilder counterpart. "When you are looking to buy wild salmon (i.e sockeye, coho etc.) it can get more pricey. Wild-caught can be well worth the price difference as the flavor is stronger and less watered-down than farm-raised," Collins told Tasting Table.
Salmon can also seem pricey if it’s out of season, but there are many purchasing options for this nutritious fish that can help you mitigate the cost. "Look for sales on salmon at the fish counter," said Rima Kleiner, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist at Dish on Fish. "[I]f it is freshly-caught fish that hasn’t yet been frozen, you can stock up on it when it’s priced right, wrap individually in foil, and store in freezer bags."
Previously frozen and thawed salmon is a great option, so long as you buy and cook it within two nights, said Kleiner. Or, you can easily head straight to the freezer or canned aisles, which sometimes offer more budget-friendly salmon. "Frozen salmon is frozen at its peak, so it is as nutritious as freshly-caught salmon," said Kleiner. "And canned or pouched salmon is affordable, delicious, and as nutritious as fresh and frozen … since it is already cooked, canned and poached salmon makes for a super convenient protein!"
Salmon is hard to cook and prepare
When it comes to cooking salmon, it truly is versatile and easy-to-prepare fish. You can cook it in many ways, whether you decide to grill it, roast it, bake it in foil or parchment, poach it, or one of any other myriad food preparation techniques.
The fat content of the fish allows a little extra forgiveness in the cooking arena, according to Collins. This means that you can slightly overcook your salmon and still have a wonderfully delicious piece of fish, though it’s always best to pay attention and avoid overcooking if you can. That high fat content allows you many different options to prepare it — you can sear, grill, poach, or even smoke it without destroying the salmon. As always, if you’re cooking salmon, make sure it is thoroughly cooked and reaches an internal temperature of 145° F for food safety reasons.
All salmon is the same
Consider all the ways you can prepare salmon, from cold-smoked preparations, to lox, and the many, many varieties of cooked salmon. Salmon isn’t just salmon because there are so many varieties about it. And while one person may consider a slice of smoked salmon lox on a bagel to be their favorite way to enjoy this fish, someone else may prefer their salmon as sashimi or even simply fresh off a grill. Even within the same variety of salmon, you can produce a galaxy of different flavors and eating experiences.
And even within a single fish, there are many parts with different cuts and flavors — similar almost to enjoying chicken breasts versus thighs, or one cut of beef over another. "A whole [salmon] filet will typically have the top loin, loin, belly, and second cut. The belly has the highest concentration of healthy fats and helps to keep the filet moist as it cooks," food blogger Zully Hernandez told Tasting Table. Different fat contents within the same fish will also affect taste and texture, providing yet more variety.
Farmed salmon is bad
Just as there are chickens that can be farmed well and there are chickens that can be farmed badly, affecting the taste, the same is true for salmon. "Sustainably raised Atlantic farmed salmon [doesn’t use] antibiotics and no chemicals," Pacific Catch’s director of sustainability Jennifer Bushman told Tasting Table.
The truth is that salmon is one of the most frequently eaten fish worldwide, which would put a lot of pressure on wild fish populations. "Wild salmon could never keep up the pace and would be eaten into extinction," said Bushman. "Fisheries have been producing less and less salmon depending on the region. Farmed salmon done with the best of farming practices supports wild stocks staying abundant."
According to Bushman, the best-in-class farms have begun to use microalgae as part of the fish’s diet, which is highly nutritious and can affect the final product that makes its way onto your table. "In some cases, the salmon that was farmed has more long-chain omega-3s than wild. In one case, Kvarøy Arctic salmon was even able to achieve the American Heart Association Red Check shield," said Bushman, a claim that’s supported by Kvarøy Arctic itself. However, it’s important to remember that not all companies farm salmon equally, so it’s important to be aware of the differences between wild and farmed salmon that remain today.
Cooked salmon as not as healthy as raw salmon
While cooking does sometimes jeopardize the nutritional content of food, this is simply not true of salmon. Studies have shown that cooking salmon in a variety of methods allows salmon to maintain or even increase its nutrition content. In most cases, cooked salmon can actually be more nutritious than raw salmon. "By cooking your salmon, you are better off avoiding the possibility of consuming a parasite or illness-causing bacteria," chef and nutritionist Serena Poon told Tasting Table.
A 2017 study published in PloS One demonstrated that salmon cooked in a variety of methods mostly maintained or even increased its nutritional value. The study tested the composition, protein, fatty acid, and mineral content of different varieties of cooked salmon. "The researchers found that protein content actually increased in cooked salmon," said Poon. "The fatty acid content, which is one of the fish’s most touted benefits, was largely unchanged by the cooking method, though they saw an increase in omega-3 fatty acids in the cooked salmon. In terms of mineral content, iron decreased a bit in canned, microwaved, and oven-cooked salmon and calcium content increased in a canned preparation." However you cook it, you may want to be mindful of the mercury content of the fish you’re consuming.
Frozen salmon is not as good as fresh salmon
Unless you’re buying your salmon directly off of a boat and eating it that day, frozen salmon is like going to be the freshest salmon you can find. According to a study published by the International Journal of Food Science, researchers have found that most of the changes in frozen fish occur in texture and appearance. For the most part, other indicators of quality are preserved. "One exception is the fatty acid profile, which can degrade during frozen storage," said Poon.
Not only does freezing a fish directly after catching preserve most of its freshness, flavor, and nutritional content, but fresh fish also might not actually be all that fresh. "Unless you are purchasing salmon from a fishmonger directly off of the boat, it is likely that the fresh fish you are buying is fish that has been frozen and thawed anyway," said Poon. No matter what, it is important to purchase from a trusted source with responsible fishing, freezing and selling practices.
High-fat fish like salmon or mackerel can actually handle freezing extremely well without any serious changes to taste. "In Japan, all seafood is frozen in order to kill any parasites that may be in the flesh (even fish for amazingly high-quality sushi)," Collins told Tasting Table. If a great sear is something you are going for when preparing the fish, make sure the fish is fully thawed and be sure to let it dry before cooking.