Wild Pacific King salmon is here

Hooray, it is wild Pacific King salmon season!

If you eat farmed salmon year round, this may not seem like such a big deal. But if you wait for the local salmon season to open, you are either already indulging or getting ready to do so. Wild salmon is so much better for you and for the planet, and it tastes so much better than farmed, that it is worth waiting for.

My advice is to avoid farmed salmon entirely and enjoy other seafoods when local wild salmon is not in season. One side benefit, so to speak, of following this philosophy — simply put, of eating seasonally — is that you rarely get tired of anything. By the time you've had enough, the season is over.

According to Dave Legro, a local fisherman and farmers market fishmonger, it's a good year fish-wise but not so good, at least not so far, weather-wise. Heavy winds in northern California have kept fishermen out of local waters. Legro headed south, where the winds are calm but the fish sparse. Still, he's been able to get some just-caught salmon back to Sonoma County and into the hands of his son and daughters, who take over his farmers market stalls when he's at sea.

You won't find fresher salmon than this unless you catch it yourself or buy it off a boat. Legro's fresh-caught salmon is offered at the Healdsburg Farmers Market, the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market and the Sebastopol Farmers Market and that's it. What doesn't sell is smoked.

Local wild salmon in supermarkets is rarely this fresh; it has often been out of the water a week and longer by the time you are able to buy it. This fish is still just fine as long as it has been cleaned immediately after being caught, but it lacks the full range of flavor and delicacy of just-caught salmon. If you eat a lot of salmon, you understand the difference.

Sadly, there are some unscrupulous purveyors who mislabel their salmon, sometimes presenting farmed salmon as wild and sometimes simply failing to identify it fully. Atlantic salmon is always farmed salmon, as is salmon labeled "British Columbia." The best way to know which is which is to eat what you know for certain is true fresh wild salmon and pay attention to the texture. It is both firm and tender, with a briny sweetness, and is never mushy. Farmed salmon has a somewhat softer texture, without the distinct muscular structure of its wild cousins, and is often mushy. After you've prepared wild salmon a few times, you'll come to recognize farmed salmon just by looking at it.

For an articulate and concise exploration of salmon, including farmed salmon and its dangers, check out "Salmon Nation: People and Fish at the Edge," edited by Edward C. Wolf and Seth Zuckerman (Ecotrust, 1999).

For salmon recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit Eat This Now, which you'll find at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You'll find recipes for wild salmon wrapped in bacon, grilled wild salmon with Bing cherries, wild salmon teriyaki, wild salmon belly sandwiches, wild salmon BLTs and wild salmon chowder, along with tips and photographs for prepping and cooking salmon.

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