Spring and summer mean salmon season at Metropolitan Market. Whether you’re looking for a show-stopping main course or just a simple, healthy weeknight meal, our Fish Market has you covered. You may have noticed a few different species on the ice: King, Coho, and Sockeye salmon each have unique flavor profiles, and are distinguishable as whole fish by their body types, colors, and sizes. Their fishing seasons also vary. Most importantly, there’s a big difference within each species depending on where the salmon is fished, so not all King salmon tastes the same.
How does a river make salmon taste good?
Each spring, as salmon all over the eastern Pacific prepare to return to the rivers of their birth to spawn, they store the energy they’ll need to swim upstream in the form of Omega-3 fatty acids (heart-healthy oils). The longer and steeper the river, the more energy they’ll need, and the more delicious they’ll taste when they’ve been cooked. This is why you’ve seen salmon identified on menus by their birth river, which gives diners an idea of how fatty the flesh will be. Alaska’s 300-mile-long Copper River, which empties into the Pacific near Cordova, Alaska, is one of the region’s most challenging rivers for fish to climb—which means the salmon caught in the Copper River Delta are the richest, fattiest, most flavorful salmon available.
Metropolitan Market played a big role in launching Copper River salmon’s popularity today. In the 1980s, Seattle-based salmon guru Jon Rowley led Metropolitan Market (then called Queen Anne Thriftway) owner Dick Rhodes to the superior flavor and texture of Copper River salmon, and in 1984 we became the first grocery store to sell fish from the now-famous river. Now, each May, shoppers herald the arrival of the yearly catch, which lasts until June for King salmon, until July for Sockeye salmon, and between July and September for Coho salmon. When the fish start running—it’s nature, so there’s always a little wiggle room in those start dates—we fly them in fresh, so shoppers get expertly handled salmon sometimes just hours out of cold Alaskan waters.
Which species should I buy?
King salmon (also known as Chinook) are huge, often weighing between 20 and 50 pounds. They have the highest oil content of any species, and should be treated like an exceptional steak. You can grill or pan-sear the fillets, but the flavor is so intense, they often don’t need more than salt, pepper, and perhaps a squeeze of lemon.
Coho salmon (also called Silver) are medium-sized fish, usually weighing in between 5 and 18 pounds. Their flesh is milder and more delicate than King, which makes them a good choice for flavorful whole-fillet preparations like Pan-Roasted Salmon with Lemon and Leeks or meals where the salmon gets broken up, as with tacos or rice bowls. Coho is also a great budget buy if you’re looking for just a little salmon to add to omelets or pastas.
Sockeye salmon (also named Red salmon) are smaller, leaner fish (4 to 6 pounds), with denser, definitively darker flesh that holds up very well on the grill and pairs well with more strongly favored marinades. Check out our guide on How to Grill Salmon or try Miso-Marinated Salmon.
In general, while some firm white fish have very mild, delicate flavor and call for a lot of extra flavor, Copper River salmon has a strong personality, so when it doubt, no matter what species you choose, keep your cooking as simple as possible. The salmon run is different every year, so enjoy the flavor now—you never know how long the season will last!