Salmon

Health Canada recommends eating fish – especially oily fish like salmon – at least twice a week for its heart-protective nutrients. This month I'm highlighting the benefits of salmon: it's quick to cook, nutritious and delicious.

Salmon

Nutrition Notes

Salmon, with its pink-red flesh, is high in protein and an excellent source of vitamins B6, B12 and niacin . It's also packed with potassium, selenium and phosphorus. 

And salmon is one of the few foods naturally high in vitamin D, delivering 350 to 715 international units (IU) per three ounces.  (Health Canada recommends 600 IU per day for children aged one to adults aged 70, and 800 IU daily for adults over 70.)

Omega-3 fats in farmed and wild salmon

Salmon also contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), omega-3 fatty acids are thought to guard against heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, macular degneration and Alzheimer's disease. They also promote healthy eye and brain development in infants. That's an impressive list!

Gram for gram, salmon delivers more omega-3 fatty acids than most types of oily fish. One six-ounce serving of Atlantic salmon, for example, delivers about 500 milligrams of DHA plus EPA per day, an amount that’s recommended for heart health.

The American Heart Association advises 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 ‘s (DHA plus EPA combined) each day for people who have coronary heart disease, an amount that’s equivalent to eating six-ounces of Atlantic salmon twice per week. Since omega-3 fats store in the body, it isn’t necessary to eat fish everyday. 

Omega-3 fats in fish come from the food it eats.  In wild-caught salmon, omega-3’s come from the algae, plankton and smaller fish (e.g. herring) in their diet. Species of wild salmon include Chinook, sockeye (red), Coho, pink and chum. Chinook, chum and Coho salmon may also be farmed.

The vast majority of farmed salmon (over 90 per cent) are Atlantic salmon, which are hatched, raised and harvested under-controlled conditions. The omega-3 fat content of farm-raised salmon depends on the type of feed they eat, which consists of a combination of plants, grains, fishmeal and fish oil.

According to 2015 data from the United States Department of Agriculture, farmed Atlantic salmon contains more omega-3 fatty acids than wild-caught salmon. That’s not surprising since it is also higher in total fat than wild salmon.

Varieties

Salmon under three years of age are best for eating. They have pink, fatty flesh, which can be cooked fresh, smoked or sometimes eaten raw. There are several types of salmon available today. These include:

Chinook, or king salmon, the largest and fattiest fish, has firm, usually deep red flesh. Chinook is sold fresh, frozen and smoked.

Sockeye, the highest-quality salmon, has deep-red meat and the next highest fat content.

Coho is a small fish with medium-red, less fatty flesh; usually it is sold fresh.

Chum is a lower-fat fish with firm, sometimes coarse, pale flesh.

Pink is the leanest salmon. It has soft, bland, pink flesh that is usually canned.

Flash-freezing on fishing boats and deliveries by air bring most salmon varieties fresh to markets around the country. All varieties except coho are usually available canned. Commercially smoked salmon is most often Chinook, but its valuable fat content is reduced in the processing.

Buying

Depending on the variety, salmon is sold whole or in fillets or steaks. When buying whole look for the following: fresh, sweet scent not fishy aroma, firm, translucent and moist flesh, clear eyes that are bulging and not sunken and pink or red gills. Ask if the fish has been frozen and thawed, so you will know if you can freeze it at home. Be cautious buying salmon at sale prices; it can mean that the store is trying to get rid of fish that's less than fresh.

Fresh fish does not keep well and should be eaten within two days.

Canned salmon is available everywhere. Look for the fattiest variety, such as sockeye or red. Pick water-packed fish over oil-packed as the oil can leach away many of the omega-3 fatty acids.

Smoked salmon is best when purchased at a counter where it is freshly cut. Vacuum-sealed packs of smoked salmon are good if they have been properly stored in transit, so buy from reputable grocers.

Storing

As soon as you get salmon home, rinse it, place on paper towels, seal it in a clean plastic bag and store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in a pan of ice in the refrigerator. Fresh salmon should be kept there until cooked. Whole fish will keep better than steaks or fillets.

To freeze salmon, cut large pieces into steaks or fillets so they will freeze quickly. Rinse and pat dry, then wrap tightly in heavy-duty freezer paper or plastic wrap. Over wrap with foil or a freezer bag.

Frozen salmon keeps about three months. Thaw frozen salmon in the refrigerator overnight. Smoked salmon keeps for up to three days wrapped tightly in the refrigerator. (For vacuum-packed smoked salmon, check the label for storage instructions.)

Preparing

Rinse fresh salmon, pat dry and proceed immediately to grill, broil, sauté, steam or bake. Never leave fresh fish at room temperature. If marinating is required, do it in the refrigerator.

Cook salmon the minimum time called for in the recipe. It should be cooked thoroughly to destroy all harmful organisms, but overcooking will result in the flesh falling apart or becoming tough and dry.

Smoked salmon needs no preparation before eating. Eating raw salmon in reputable sushi bars or rare salmon in restaurants is generally safe as the fish is frozen - which kills harmful parasites - before serving. Pregnant women, however, should avoid eating raw fish.

One of my favourite ways to cook salmon: grilled on a cedar plank. Salmon fillets or steaks are baked in the oven or on the barbecue after being placed on a water-soaked cedar plank. The salmon takes on some of the smoky, sweet cedar flavor. For more visit www.chinookplanks.com.

Eating

Easy to cook, versatile and delicious to eat, salmon is one of our favorite fish.

Healthy Ways to Eat More Salmon Everyday:

Breakfast

  • Add cooked salmon to omelets, frittatas and scrambled eggs.
  • Add smoked salmon to breakfast sandwiches instead of ham.
  • For a change from the usual sweet breakfast fare, make savory muffins with cooked salmon.

Lunch

  • Leftover poached salmon goes great in pasta and green salads.
  • A salmon salad sandwich made with canned salmon including the bones provides extra calcium (it's also an excellent source of vitamin D).
  • Try succulent salmon cakes for a satisfying lunch.

Dinner

  • Top pizza with slices of smoked salmon for a gourmet treat.
  • A whole poached salmon garnished with dill and lemon is an impressive dish for entertaining or holidays.
  • Grilled or broiled salmon steaks and fillets are quick, healthy and tasty.

Snacks

  • Serve salmon dip with crudité or whole grain crackers.

More Information

Did you know? After one or more years at sea, Atlantic salmon return to their home rivers in an extraordinary journey that may span more than 4,000 km of open ocean. Entering the river between April and November, they navigate upstream, leaping obstructions up to 3 m. high to spawn in shallow tributaries in late fall.