Buying salmon should be easy. But between farm-raised, wild-caught, domestic, international, and fresh vs. frozen, the options can be overwhelming. Well guess no more! With these tips and tidbits of information, you will be able to make more informed, healthy and sustainable options so you can find the best salmon to buy.

Overhead photo of fresh salmon filets stacked on a white paper with lemon, peas and herbs scattered around them.What to look for when buying salmon filets 

Appearance: 

  • Avoid salmon filets that have breaks or cracks in the muscle, both within the muscle itself and along the white collagen sheaths. This indicates mishandling and degradation.
  • Avoid any packages that have pooling of water, another sure sign of degradation.
  • Look for filets that are bright and saturated in color.
  • Salmon filets should have a bright contrast between the muscle and the fat.

Texture: 

  • Choose filets that are glossy and firm to the touch.
  • Avoid filets that are chalky, dry, sticky and soft to the touch.

Smell: 

  • Salmon filets should smell fresh and clean, and slightly briny or like the ocean. Fresh fish should never smell “fishy.”

Best place to buy salmon

The best place to buy salmon is from your local fishmonger/fish market. Not only will they have the freshest fish, but they will also have the best quality and be the most knowledgeable about the available products. Simply search “fish markets in my area” for a list of local markets near you. 

Fresh vs. frozen

Don’t have a good fish market in your area? Frozen salmon can be just as good, and sometimes even better than what is offered behind the fish counter. If you opt for frozen salmon, look for one that has been vacuum sealed and is labeled as flash-frozen immediately after harvest.

In many cases, the salmon offered at the seafood counter in a grocery store or supermarket is often thawed salmon which has also been flash-frozen immediately after harvest. In my opinion, if these are your two options, why not choose the one that hasn’t already been thawed for a while?

Overhead photo of fresh salmon filet set on a dark blue plate with a skillet and salt and pepper set off to the side.Best salmon to buy: wild-caught vs. farm-raised

When choosing between wild-caught or farm-raised salmon, there’s really no correct answer. With pros and cons on both sides, it’s truly up to you to decide based on your preference.

Wild-caught, as you can imagine, defines fish that are caught in their natural habitat by fisherman. Farm-raised, on the other hand, defines fish that are raised in pens submerged in lakes, ponds and saltwater. (Most shrimp are grown this way as are many oysters and mussels.)

Studies done comparing nutritional and health benefits between the two are inconsistent. Some research shows that farm-raised salmon is higher in omega-3 fatty acids due to fortified feed. While other studies show that wild-caught are higher in fatty acids due to a diet of small fish, of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids due to the consumption of algae. There’s really no consensus on which is more nutritious.

Some argue that farm-raised salmon is more sustainable long term since many species are being overfished in their natural habitat. On the other hand, many people argue that the resources required to farm raise fish is just as draining and inefficient for the environment. 

A notable argument against farm-raised fish is that it has a higher risk for contamination due to farming practices. However, it’s dually important to note the presence of industrial contamination in our streams and oceans which affect wild-caught fish and seafood. 

The most important thing to keep in mind when purchasing salmon, and all seafood for that matter, is to know where it is coming from. Farm-raised or wild-caught fish from the US is trustworthy and reliable thanks to strict laws and regulations of handling and farming practices.

I recommend consumers to be cautious when buying fish that was raised or caught internationally. China, for example, does not treat fish waste properly, which leads to water contamination. Additionally, many countries outside of the US regularly use antibiotics and pesticides in farming practices, both of which are not allowed in the US.  

Photo of seared salmon on a white plate with a fork flaking off a piece of juicy, moist cooked salmonHow long does raw salmon last?

Raw salmon can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Raw salmon can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.  

Vacuum-sealed salmon can be stored in the freezer for up to eight months. 

How to store salmon

If you are planning to use fresh raw salmon within two days, here is how you should prepare and store it: 

  1. Rinse salmon in cold water and pat dry. 
  2. Warp salmon tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap with a layer of aluminum foil. 
  3. Place salmon in the coldest part of your refrigerator, or in the bottom drawer.
  4. Make sure refrigerator maintains a temperature of about 32-degrees fahrenheit. 

If you are planning to freeze raw salmon, here is how you should prepare and store it:

  1. Rinse salmon in cold water and pat dry. 
  2. Wrap salmon tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap with a layer of aluminum foil. 
  3. Place wrapped salmon in a resealable zipper-lock bag (I love my Stasher bags).
  4. Place in the coldest part of the freezer, or on the freezer floor. 

Overhead photograph of lentil and spinach salad with flakes of salmon in a dark blue bowl with a gold fork. Dressing set off to the side in a bowl with a spoon.Try These Salmon Recipes! 

Overhead photo of fresh salmon filets stacked on a white paper with lemon, peas and herbs scattered around them, plus text overlay.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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