September 25, 2013
Read a story about salmon, and the odds are good that, somewhere, it’ll tell you that wild salmon tastes better than farmed. But does it? We decided to find out in a blind tasting, and assembled a panel that included noted Washington seafood chefs and a seafood wholesaler.
The fish swam the gamut. We had wild king from Washington, frozen farmed from Costco, and eight in between, including Verlasso farmed salmon from Chile, which is the first open-pen farmed salmon to get a Seafood Watch “buy” recommendation. The tasters came from the Food section and the local seafood scene.
Scott Drewno, executive chef of the Source by Wolfgang Puck, was gracious enough to prepare the fish; this was like Usain Bolt consenting to go for a jog. Drewno steamed portioned fillets simply, with a little salt.
The judgments were definitive, and surprising. Farmed salmon beat wild salmon, hands down. The overall winner was the Costco frozen Atlantic salmon (Norwegian), added to the tasting late in the game — to provide a counterpoint to all that lovely fresh fish, we thought.
There is an important caveat about the winning salmon: It was packed in a 4 percent salt solution. Many of the tasters noted, and liked, the saltiness. Chef-restaurateur Kaz Okochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro, Masa 14) mentioned that salt doesn’t only affect flavor but also helps make the texture of the fish firmer. Salting is “a typical Japanese technique for fish” and one he uses on salmon sushi. The Costco/Kirkland label product was a fine piece of fish, and one any of us would put on the table. Yet it wasn’t strictly comparable to the others. It was also about $5 per pound cheaper than any of them.
The next three top-rated fish, with closely grouped scores, also were farmed: Trader Joe’s, from Norway; Loch Duart, from Scotland; and Verlasso.