It’s always a good time for salmon. This oily, pinky-orange fish is second only to shrimp in its popularity status across the United States. It’s easy to cook—including in large quantities—and easy to dress up, or down. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart health; rich in an antioxidant called astaxanthin, which has been linked to lowering cholesterol; and good source of protein.
Oily fish like salmon are also supposed to be good for lowering inflammation. Salmon is often billed as a family-friendly dinner choice because of its mild flavor and buttery texture, aka kids like it, who wouldn’t? Salmon’s not a sellout—it’s a justified star. Eat it raw, cured, smoked, grilled, baked, or poached, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Atlantic refers to the species, not where it’s farmed, because Atlantic salmon is now farmed all around the world. You’ve likely eaten it before, too, because farmed salmon makes up 70 percent of the market worldwide.
Atlantic salmon, also known as Salmo salar, was historically found wild from northern Quebec southeast down to Newfoundland and southwest to the Long Island Sound. They were also once native to almost all American rivers north of the Hudson River, but now in the US they are found only in Maine.
Farmed Atlantic salmon is typically cheaper than the wild Pacific varieties and much more uniform. The flesh is milder and softer than the wild varieties. You can worry less about potential parasites or bacteria that might be present in wild salmon, which means you may feel safer eating farmed salmon raw. Atlantic salmon available year-round.
Endangered Atlantic Salmon
All Atlantic salmon that you’ll find for sale in the US is farmed because the wild populations are endangered.
And did you know that there are seven kinds of Pacific salmon? Five of them are found around the United States and Canada, and two—Masu and Amago—are only found closer to Asia. Most of the Pacific salmon on the US market is wild, but some is farmed.
Sockeye (Red) Salmon
Sockeye salmon, also called red or blueback salmon and officially known as Oncorhynchus nerka, are known for their deep red flesh—which turns deeper in color when they swim upstream to spawn— rich flavor, and firm texture. Weighing in at 4 to 15 pounds, this wild species is one of the smaller types of Pacific salmon and can be found from the Klamath River in Oregon to Point Hope in northwestern Alaska.
Sockeye is often sold smoked. Most sockeye are caught between early June and early July.
You can cook sockeye salmon in a variety of ways, including searing, grilling, or on a bagel if it’s smoked (“on a bagel” is a cooking method, right?). The firm flesh means it stands up well to grilling, but beware that because filets are thinner, they’ll cook faster than thicker salmon varieties. It’s a good choice for baking or sauteing.
King (Chinook) Salmon
It’s good to be the king. Many people consider king or Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), to be the best-tasting salmon in the sea thanks to its fatty flesh that’s buttery and even a touch sweet.
The largest of all Pacific salmon, king salmon can grow up to weigh up to 100 pounds, but typically hover around 30 pounds. Their blue-green skin turns silver on their sides and white on their bellies. Depending on their age and location, their flesh turns anywhere from a copper to gray when they spawn in fresh water, after they’ve fed and lived a few years in salt water. King salmon can be found from the Monterey Bay area of California to the Chukchi Sea area of Alaska, and all the way to Hokkaido, Japan. In Alaska, major populations return to the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Nushagak, Susitna, Kenai, Copper, Alsek, Taku, and Stikine rivers.
The best time to buy king salmon is from late April to late June. Most king salmon on the market is wild, but there are a handful of fisheries that farm this variety, too.
King salmon stands up well to high heat, so you can grill, roast, or sear it. Cooking time in recipes may increase, because the fish will likely be thicker.
Coho (or Silver) Salmon
This bright, silver swimmer is milder in flavor and has a lower fat content than Sockeye or King. The fish are also smaller in size, typically weighing between 8 to 12 pounds, and they can be found off Alaska from Southeast to Point Hope on the Chukchi Sea, in the Yukon River and also in all accessible bodies of fresh water.
Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) is easiest to find between late July and October. Coho is typically less expensive than king salmon, and because it’s milder in flavor, it’s a good variety to season more aggressively or serve with a sauce. Its relatively low fat content means it's better suited for subtler cooking methods, such as poaching.
Pink (Humpies or Humpback) Salmon
Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) is also called “Humipies” or Humpback salmon because of its light-colored flesh and the hump on its back. It’s the smallest and most abundant variety of Pacific salmon, and is also milder-tasting than its counterparts. For these reasons, pink salmon has become the most common salmon variety to be canned.
The season for pink salmon is August to September. Making salmon patties or a Nicoise salad? Or want to jazz up a weeknight pasta? Canned pink salmon is a pantry staple to keep on hand.
Chum (Silverbrite, Keta, or Dog) Salmon
This variety of wild salmon, which is most often found in Alaska waters, is also often sold canned or frozen, and is the most widely distributed Pacific variety. One of the smaller fish—weighing around 8 pounds—with a mild flavor, it may not be a household name when it comes to its meat, but it’s well-known for something else: its roe. Chum roe, or fish eggs, are larger and more flavorful than roe from other salmon, and it’s the most commonly used kind for ikura, or salmon caviar.