Five Tips to Select Good-Quality Salmon

I enjoy fresh, delicious wild salmon, and I can’t stand the fishy smell of most salmon sold in stores. Salmon is loaded with healthy, long-chain omega-3 fats and protein. Yet, these fats are very delicate and easily damaged. Not only do rancid omega-3 fats taste awful, but they are dangerous to your health.

Tip #1: Buy fresh wild salmon. It seems silly to say this, but most stores call their salmon “fresh” if it hasn’t been frozen, even if it was caught 1-2 weeks ago. Clearly after a few days on ice, the salmon is no longer fresh. A whole salmon should have plump, clear, shiny eyes. The skin should be shiny and moist, and if filleted, the meat should be plump without wrinkles and look firm. If the eyes are dried out and the flesh looks cracked, mushy, or dried,,,, move on. If it looks good, before they wrap it up in paper, ask to smell it. It should smell fresh, not fishy. Fishy smelling salmon won’t taste good no matter what you do with it.

The reality is you can only find fresh wild salmon 3-4 months of the year, so for the rest of the year, you need a back up plan.

Tip #2: If you can’t find “fresh” wild salmon, buy vacuum-packed, frozen wild salmon. Vacuum-packed salmon is usually much less expensive, and “if” it was vacuum-packed and flash frozen, it will taste fresh for at least six months. The salmon I defrost in January from my annual fishing trip in July, usually tastes much better than the “fresh” farmed salmon they sell in the grocery store. The challenge is finding a company that will vacuum-pack and flash freeze their catch. A good source is Vital Choice.

Tip #3: Marinate your salmon in an acidic, salty solution before cooking, such as orange juice. In fact, I marinate most of the seafood I buy in salty orange juice before cooking it. First rinse the fish in fresh water, then add one teaspoon of sea salt to 1 cup of orange juice and marinate it for 10-20 minutes before cooking. I gently rinse and pat it dry with paper towels before I add seasoning.  The acidity sears the outer flesh, maintaining the moisture, and it decreases the formation of harmful heterocyclic amines (carcinogens formed with grilling) by up to 80%. The orange juice also washes the occasional frozen slime coating on frozen fish and leaves it with a sweeter, fresher taste.

Tip #4: Add spices and herbs with your salmon. When I catch salmon and eat it that same day, I add maybe a touch of salt that is it—it is awesome. But the truth is that most salmon wasn’t caught the same day and it tastes better if I cook it with herbs. I like to stimulate at least 3-4 taste bud centers, and sometimes all five. I enjoy experimenting with various combinations of dill, paprika, cayenne, black pepper, salt, lemon, lemon rind, ginger, and garlic. Try the Grilled Salmon recipe below as an example.

Tip #5: If your taste buds are highly sensitive to fishy fats, then pick salmon with less fat content.  Pink salmon has much less fat content than say silver or king salmon, and it can be great in a salmon spread. See below. For a great source of canned pink salmon, I like Vital Choice.

Below are a couple of my favorite salmon recipes, adapted from my 30-Day Heart Tune-Up cookbook. Enjoy!

Salmon Spread (Quick & Easy)

A better option to a tuna spread is this healthier version which is delicious on sandwiches, in pita bread, or served with a tossed salad.


6 ounce           Canned salmon (I prefer wild Alaska pink or red salmon)

2 medium       Green onions, diced

1 Tbsp             Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp             Hummus

1 Tbsp             Capers

1 tsp                Lemon juice

1 medium       Celery stalk, diced

Optional         Hot sauce to taste

Flake salmon. Mix with the remaining ingredients and serve.

Grilled Salmon with Lemon, Chili, Brown Sugar and Dill       

Voila, my favorite grilled salmon recipe. I grew up salmon fishing with my Dad, and I now take my sons salmon fishing most summers. Even guests who normally shy away from salmon have enjoyed this recipe. All of their taste buds (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami) are stimulated at once!

Preparation Time: 10 minutes   MARINADE TIME: 15 MINUTES    cooking time: 8-10 minutes   Serves: 4

1.5 pounds  Salmon (preferably wild Alaska Coho or other wild species)

1 cup            Orange juice

1 medium    Lemon

1/2 tsp         Sea salt

¼ tsp            Ground black pepper

½ tsp            Paprika

¼ tsp            Cayenne pepper (1/8 to ¼ tsp, to taste)

1 tsp             Brown sugar

1 tsp             Dill weed, dried (or ¼ cup fresh dill weed, cut into 1-inch strands)

 Rinse salmon fillets in cold water. Marinate in orange juice for 15 minutes. Pre-heat grill to 450 degrees (F), or set oven to broil. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Sprinkle lemon juice over fillets. Combine salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, sugar, and dill weed and sprinkle over the salmon.

Transfer salmon fillets to the grill. For a 1-inch thick fillet, grill about 8-10 minutes total, 4-5 minutes per side (for thinner fillets, use less time). The timing will be similar if you use the top rack of your oven broiler.

Serve with lemon wedges and garnish with fresh dill weed.

Hope you enjoy the recipes!

To Your Health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS


    • Dr. Steven Masley says

      Hi Teresa,
      If you don’t have a grill, I prefer to broil salmon in the oven. You can use about the same cooking time.
      Steven Masley, MD

  1. Richard says

    My question Doctor is as we know the Japanese had the big tsunami hit it hard a few years ago. I live on the west coast of British Columbia on Vancouver Island in the city of Victoria B.C.
    As we all know they had their power plant damaged from the wave. Which resulted in radiation being released in the ocean. As we have had lots and lots of the debris from that disaster
    liter our Island . Is it still safe in your estimation to be eating our salmon and halibut from the Pacific Ocean. I am still stunned that the Japanese would have nucular power plants there
    Especially after the devastation they experienced when the U.S.A dropped those bombs on
    them. Anyway is it safe at this point to eat the fish off our shores.
    Thank you for the information you provide

    • Dr. Steven Masley says

      The radiation has now spread worldwide, it isn’t just in the Pacific. Sadly, we have been treating our oceans like a toilet for far too long and the planets oceans are becoming more and more polluted.

      This makes it more important to eat low on the food chain, as heavy metals accumulate in fish that eat high on the food chain and in fish with a long lifespan. Salmon have a short lifespan and have small mouths and eat low on the food chain, so they have far less heavy metals than other fish. Pink salmon have the shortest lifespan and eat the smallest fish, so if you are concerned, choose pink. For halibut, I only catch those that are under 15-20 pounds, as the bigger halibut have far more heavy metals in them.
      To Your Health!
      Steven Masley, MD

    • Dr. Steven Masley says

      Canned wild salmon is a inexpensive way to get your healthy omega-3 fats. Ideally you would use BPA free cans if you can find it.
      Steven Masley, MD

  2. says

    Here’s a tip from an experienced Japanese chef. We do not over-season our fish. For salmon, we pat it down first with garlic salt. Less is always better. Better Japanese restaurants . . . unfortunately most such restaurants in the US are not Japanese owned or managed or trained . . . will use a mix of at least two and up to give different oils. We use butter and virgin ollive oil for salmon. Additionally, if you do not like a strong fish taste, just a few minutes before finished cooking, add some sake to the pan. There is then NO strong fishy smell or taste. PLEASE do not take my remark as being racist. It is simply a fact that if you want a dish to taste “Japaneesy” then learn from a Japanese.

    • Dr. Steven Masley says

      Thanks for the tip! Yes, I like a splash of sake to the pan when cooking fish. I agree it helps remove any fishy smell and taste.
      Steven Masley, MD

  3. Karen Young says

    Wonderful email. Can’t wait to try the salmon recipes! Thanks for taking the time to formulate them and send them

  4. Anna R. Fronte says

    Dear Dr. Masley.
    Thank you so much for your article Five Tips To Select Good-Quality Salmon. I also have your book and dvd’s from PBS in New Jersey.
    Thank you again.
    Anna R. Fronte

  5. Mary Webb WALKER says

    Thanks for these great tips, Dr. Masley. As you know, we are living on our boat in Europe and currently cruising the French inland waterways. In Holland last year, I could find wild Atlantic salmon with a “bio” (organic) designation.

    It’s tougher in France. I can only find wild about once every couple of weeks if I’m lucky. Most salmon here comes from Norway and Scotland and is not bio or wild. I am reluctant to buy it as both countries are known here in France to export salmon containing toxic metals. We try to eat other wild caught fresh cold water fish instead like halibut, sole or cod from the North Sea, but are used to having salmon 3 times a week. (We also take your OmegAvail Ultra supplements). I’m reluctant to freeze salmon when I do find it at a grocer (fish markets never have wild) as who knows if it’s been previously frozen. Can it be re-frozen? Thanks for any thoughts you may have.

    Also, I can sometimes find wild red salmon canned, and bio wild smoked salmon as well. What are your thoughts on smoked salmon?

    I am just starting your book and love arriving in towns with wifi so that I can read the links in your emails as well. The recipes sound great! Off to buy orange juice today.

    Tip for your readers: Instead of brown sugar (which is generally not sold in France), I often add a teaspoon of ginger jam to both canned and grilled salmon recipes, and to my smoked salmon pasta sauce as well. It can be found in the British section of many US grocers.

    Best and thanks,
    Mary Webb Walker
    On board the “Nomade”
    Verdun, France

    • Dr. Steven Masley says

      Thanks for your comments on finding wild (bio) salmon in Europe Mary!
      What about smoked salmon? If you eat large quantities of smoked foods it is associated with an increased risk for stomach cancer. Despite that, in our home we enjoy eating smoked salmon, but we only have it on occasion.
      To Your Health!
      Steven Masley, MD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eighteen − fifteen =