Salmon was an important food to many early American Indians whose superstitions prevented certain tribe members from handling or eating the fish lest they anger its spirit and cause it to leave their waters forever. Salmon are anadromous, meaning that they migrate from their saltwater habitat to spawn in fresh water. Over the years, some salmon have become landlocked in freshwater lakes. In general, the flesh of those salmon is less flavorful than that of their sea-running relatives. There is an increasing volume of aquacultured salmon being imported into the United States today most of it from Norway, although Chile's salmon farming industry is now giving the Norwegians some competition. Although farmed salmon are raised in salt water, their flesh doesn't have the same rich nuances in flavor and texture as that of their wild relations. There are several varieties of North American salmon. All but one are found off the Pacific coast, and about 90 percent come from Alaskan waters. Among the best Pacific salmon is the superior Chinook or king salmon, which can reach up to 120 pounds. The color of its high-fat, soft-textured flesh ranges from off-white to bright red. Other high-fat salmon include the coho or silver salmon, with its firm-textured, pink to red-orange flesh, and the sockeye or red salmon (highly prized for canning) with its firm, deep red flesh. Not as fatty as the preceding species are the pink or humpback salmon the smallest, most delicately flavored of the Pacific varieties and the chum or dog salmon, which is distinguished by having the lightest color and lowest fat content. Pacific salmon are in season from spring through fall. The population of the once-abundant Atlantic salmon has diminished greatly over the years because of industrial pollution of both North American and European tributaries. The Atlantic salmon has a high-fat flesh that's pink and succulent. Canada provides most of the Atlantic salmon, which is in season from summer to early winter. Depending on the variety, salmon is sold whole or in fillets or steaks. It's also available canned and as smoked salmon, which comes in a variety of styles. The increasingly popular bright red salmon roe is readily available in most supermarkets. Fresh salmon is integral to some of the world's most famous dishes, including gravlax and coulibiac. It can be served as a main course, in salads, as a spread or dip -- its uses are myriad. All salmon are high in protein as well as a rich source of vitamin A, the B-group vitamins and Omega-3 oils.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.