Sockeye vs Atlantic Salmon

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Prized for its eye-catching pink-red flesh, meaty texture, and rich flavors, salmon does make for a wonderful meal. In fact, there are myriad ways in which you could cook this fish. So, you won’t have any trouble finding the right recipe for your salmon dinner.

But, try walking into a store to buy a whole fish or filet and you will be left confused. Yes, there really are quite a few varieties of this fish. Of them, Atlantic and sockeye salmon are quite popular. 

Now, you might think- How much of a difference can a name really make? After all, they are both the same species! Well, that’s where you are wrong. 

The unique attributes of these two will dictate whether your preparation is just another ho-hum meal or a fiesta for the taste buds that your family and friends will talk about for days. So, continue reading to know more…

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Say hello to your friendly neighborhood salmon- The Atlantic Salmon!

The only member of the salmon species that is native to the Atlantic Ocean, this fish tends to be bigger than its brethren that live in the Pacific. 

On average, the Atlantic salmon is about 3-4 feet with shiny, silver skin. It is the third largest of the Salmonidae family, and it thrives in salt water as well as fresh water.

However, the Atlantic salmon is seldom found in the wild. So, the fillet at your local store is most definitely a product of fish farming and possibly imported from Norway or Chile. 

Also known as the “King of Fish”, Atlantic salmon is considered very healthy and nutrient dense.

Introducing the brightest guy on the block- The Sockeye Salmon!

A comparatively smaller member of the salmon family, the Sockeye are hard to miss all thanks to their bright red skin. 

However, they start off as blue-black hatchlings but take on a bright hue as they swim upstream. Also known as “Red salmon”, Sockeye is widely preferred by seafood lovers in Northern America and Russia.

They are found abundantly in the Northern Pacific Ocean, hence the sockeyes at your local store will almost always be wild-caught.

The fish is smaller averaging 12-14 inches, and more compact, which translates to a thinner fillet. Because sockeyes are usually wild caught they are freshest between mid-June and July through September. But, you can buy them frozen and canned throughout the year.

Sockeye vs. Atlantic salmon: The color

The color of the flesh depends on what the salmon eats. Of course, the diet of the fish also has a bearing on its nutritional value to us.

The deep red is more than a thing of beauty: In the case of Sockeye salmon, the rich, deep red hue results from the abundance of a carotenoid- astaxanthin found in its flesh. 

A powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin can be found in bright red veggies and fruits as well as algae and certain crustaceans. While the sockeyes don’t have a taste for carrots, they do gorge on small crustaceans and krill, which gives a bright color to their skin and flesh.

But, this also means that we have no control over what these fish eat. So, there are often differences in taste depending on when the fish are caught. Fortunately, you would need fairly sensitive taste buds to feel these differences.

Sockeye Red Meat

There is a method to the pinkness: In contrast to the wild eaters that sockeyes are, the farmed Atlantic salmon are fed as per fishery norms. Think fish pellets and fishery-approved supplements here. So, the flesh has a pink hue, but it’s nowhere near as distinctive as the rich red of the Sockeye salmon.

 Also, the color is attributed to the synthetic carotenoids that are included in the fish food and not to algae, and small fishes which are a natural source of astaxanthin among other micronutrients. 

Because the feed remains unchanged throughout the life of the fish, there is rarely a change in taste. Also, farmed fish are harvested at set stages during their lifecycle, which means that they are available throughout the year in both fresh and frozen form.

Atlantic Salmon Pink Meat

The Differences in texture!

The meaty and chewy morsels: Since Sockeyes have to struggle to find their meal, they get enough but not too much fish oil in their diet. So, the meat has a firm texture and an unmistakable lean quality about it.

The flakes are medium-sized and because the body of the fish is compact, the flesh is the firmest of all Pacific salmon.  

The thick yet soft and tender bites: Because Atlantic salmon are frequently at least twice the size of Sockeyes, their flesh is thicker. Also, the inclusion of fish oils in their feed translates to a higher fat content in the flesh. 

The white lines interspersed in between the large flakes are actually fat deposits, which gives Atlantic salmon filets a texture that can only be described as “melt in your mouth”, particularly when the flesh is seared or pan-fried. The large flakes have a distinct buttery, soft and tender texture that many enjoy.

Sockeye vs Atlantic salmon: The taste!

The mild and refined taste of the Atlantic: The fatty yet mild taste of Atlantic salmon can be attributed to their feed which is artificially enriched with fats and fish oil. To put is simply, the taste of Atlantic salmon isn’t as fishy as that of sockeye, although it retains its oily quality.

The more refined taste means that it will not overpower the seasonings and the herbs and is a perfect canvas that will not dominate the other flavors. 

The robust rich flavors of the sockeye: In contrast to the mild taste of the Atlantic Salmon, Sockeye boasts a robust taste that is intensely fishy. The rich and complex flavors of this fish are such that they will hold their own even when pitched against curry spices.

In fact, the taste of sockeye salmon is often termed the “most distinctly and boldly fishy”. So, if you are not up for that, a sockeye fillet won’t be the right choice for you.

Sockeye vs. Atlantic Salmon: The nutrients

Calories: In terms of calories, there is a slight difference between the two, with a 3-ounce fillet of Atlantic offering more calories at 150. But, the Sockeye isn’t too far behind with 140 calories.

The fat content: Atlantic salmon offers about 3 grams of total fat per 3-oz serving. This includes nearly 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat and about 0.5 grams of saturated fat. In contrast, Sockeye salmon has a higher total fat content at 5 grams but only 0.3 grams of it is polyunsaturated fat while 1 gram is saturated fat.

Protein content: Sockeye salmon also boasts higher protein content at 26 grams for every 100-gram serving. Compared to this, Atlantic salmon has a lower protein content of just a bit above 19 grams for every 100-gram serving.

Of course, how many calories and how much fat you get from your dish will also depend on how the fish is cooked. Use dollops of butter and you will end up with a high-calorie dish no matter what kind of fish you use.

That said, if you are into lean eating, sockeye would certainly be a better choice. But, if you want to be a crowd-pleaser and serve a seafood dish that will appeal to the palette of everybody at the table, you could play it safe and go with the Atlantic salmon.

Cooking the Atlantic salmon

The mild flavor means that you could add it to a preparation where you want the flavors to be in perfect harmony, without one standing out against the others. In terms of cooking style, the soft tender flesh of the Atlantic salmon renders it suitable for pan frying as well as baking and roasting.

Simply finish a fillet with a high heat-controlled sear, which will get you crispy skin. Bring out the flavors of the fish with light and basic seasonings like lemon juice, butter, salt, and pepper and you will have a delicious main course on your hands.

For those who prefer more intense flavored spices, instead of trying to blend too many of these in a dish that includes Atlantic salmon, stick with just one or two stand-out flavors such as red pepper flakes, cilantro, garlic, or dill. 

Cooking the Sockeye salmon

The firm and compact texture of Sockeye salmon makes it perfect for grilling. Cook the filets, skin side down, without turning. 

Cooking the fish on cedar planks is the traditional way, but you can just as well bake it in the oven, slow roast it, or cook it in foil. It also tastes amazing when served fried.

In terms of the herbs and spices that you can couple with this intensely flavored fish, there are two schools of thought. 

There are purists who believe that it’s best to keep things simple with salt, pepper, butter, and lemon juice to ensure that the seasonings don’t steal the thunder from the star of the show, which is obviously the rich and robust flavored sockeye.

Then, there are others who believe that if you have such a strong flavor on hand that can dominate the herbs and spices, why not create a balanced background with the heady spices and herbs to go with the fishy taste?

Once again, this is a matter of preference. If you want to tone down the intense fishiness of the sockeye, then this is the way to go.

The price difference

As far as cost is concerned, Atlantic salmon is usually priced lower at $10-$15/pound, while the wild-caught sockeye can cost around $15-$20/pound.

But, you simply can’t go wrong with either option!

No matter what fish you choose, both Atlantic and sockeye salmon are healthy meal options. These nutrient-dense fishes are good for your heart and your brain, not to mention that you have a range of options when it comes to serving them

So, only your taste buds should tell you which way to go. There are those who don’t feel like they have enjoyed a seafood meal unless they feel the intense fishy taste in every bite and then there are others who relish seafood only when it is in its mildest form. 

Since, both types of salmon are almost at par when it comes to nutritional value, take your pick based on your preference.  

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