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How to select good quality salmon

Having been at the forefront of responsible salmon farming for over 50 years now, here at MOWI we’ve got a good eye for exactly what qualifies as quality when it comes to salmon. If you’re like us, you want a high standard of food for your money – how do you even begin to tell what constitutes a ‘good’ piece of salmon? Well, we’re here to help. Whether it’s smoked or fresh, here we have a few quick and handy tips on how to spot the best and ditch the rest.

Choosing quality fresh salmon

First things first – what exactly do we mean by ‘fresh salmon’? Well, strictly speaking this term applies to that which has been raised in seawater and has never been frozen. For example, ours is harvested from those cool yet choppy waters on the west coast of Scotland. Depending on where you are in the world fresh salmon might come under different names to denote a particular breed; Coho, King, Sockeye, Keta… and so on. However, here in the UK it’s the famously tasty Atlantic salmon that calls our seas home. When you see those other types we mentioned in British supermarkets – beware! Because they’re imported from abroad they are often frozen for months and shipped great distances before being defrosted, portioned up and packed. Bringing us to our first telltale sign of quality fresh salmon, the name. Atlantic salmon usually does not have to undertake such a voyage and, as such, is much better off for avoiding the deep freeze. Being stored at such a low temperature can seriously harm the integrity of the fish flesh and once cooked and ready to eat can give a dry, almost cotton wool like texture. A far cry from the optimum culinary experience that your hard earned money deserves.

Our second tip for identifying the best fresh salmon is to follow your nose. If you can detect a light, clean ‘sea’ aroma to it you’re on to something good. The texture too is another quick way to tell if your fresh salmon is a winner or not. You’re looking for flesh that’s firm with a slight bit of moistness to it. The firmness is easy to test. All you need to do is simply give it a prod. Salmon that doesn’t spring back to its ‘original’ shape after a moderate prod probably means it’s been frozen for too long (and therefore isn’t technically fresh salmon!). Finally, quality fresh salmon should have a deep red-orange-pink colour to it whereas the skin should be shiny silver in tone with a bluish tint. In fact there’s even an official measurement of salmon colour, as shown on the salmofan – an independent standard.

Another MOWI standard is that each piece of fresh salmon is cut with an almost surgical accuracy to make sure it cooks perfectly in that 22 minute time that we recommend on our packaging. The perfect MOWI cut is what’s known as ‘chef’s select’ or ‘restaurant style’.

Choosing quality cold smoked salmon

Smoked salmon is that which started as fresh salmon –  but before it reaches your shopping basket, it’s been cured, dried and smoked. To learn a bit more about what makes for good quality salmon we first need to understand the process.

There are different ways to smoke salmon but ours is one that’s tried and tested and makes for exceptionally delicious results. Firstly we remove the skin from our side of salmon and dry cure it with sea salt and demerara sugar to draw out the moisture and allow the dry cure to sink into the flesh. After some time we wash off the cure with cold water and leave the fish to dry – this is an important stage as it allows that salty flavour to spread equally through the salmon, giving a consistent taste throughout the fillet. Then it’s on to the smoking process. This is where our Kilnmasters really shine. Dampening the wood we use for smoke just the right amount (so as not to overwhelm the fish and produce an acrid burn flavour). Here at MOWI some of the wood we actually use was once whisky casks. It’s important for us to use wood so that the smoke smoulders away at a nice even pace. Wood that burns too quickly can travel up the kiln’s loom and result in nasty looking black spots on our beautiful salmon. Obviously, this is a big no-no.

Once smoked to perfection, the outer edge of the salmon naturally becomes a bit firmer, drier and darker in colour. This is what’s known as the pellicle and is where the smokiest flavour can be found. Other producers remove it but we love the extra dimension it adds to the overall taste, so we leave it be. After smoking, each piece of salmon is left to mature in order to give the optimum flavour. Once we’re happy that the salmon has had enough time to properly mature we remove the naturally occurring brown meat… and herein lies tip number one on finding quality smoked salmon.

Salmon with this brown meat left on will go off much quicker than that which has been trimmed, plus it also gives a bitter taste and tends to be chewy in texture. Don’t settle for less! Each bite should give a melt-in-the-mouth sensation with a delicate balance of salt and smoke that’s clean, rounded and present throughout each slice.

When judging smoked salmon by eye, you always want to opt for one that has a deep pink/orange colour to it. The white fat bands on each slice should be narrow too and there should be a light oily coating on the flesh.

Another smoked salmon tip that we consider essential is to take your smoked salmon out of the fridge around 20 minutes prior to eating. Trust us, you’ll notice a big difference in the flavour once the fish is brought up to room temperature.

More quality. MOWI excellence

Hopefully that gives you a good idea of what you should expect from salmon that’s worth its (sea) salt. Of course if you’re still not certain, another sure sign of carefully-raised, expertly produced salmon is to search the chilled supermarket section for the MOWI logo. Our packaging is reassuringly transparent so that you can feel free to give our products a thorough once over. We think you’ll like what you see, and love what you taste.

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