Wild Coho Salmon vs Farmed Atlantic Salmon: Which is Better for Sushi?

Preparing one’s own sushi and sashimi is a pleasure. It’s a good deal price-wise compared to eating out, and the act of prepping the fish, slicing it, and presenting it nicely on the serving platter is a very calming, relaxing experience. The enjoyment of the food at the end is, of course, a huge plus as well! (The matter of making good sushi rice however, is a little less pleasurable… at least for now until I practice enough to make good sushi rice!)

A few days ago, I had a choice between a side of wild coho salmon with deep, rich red color and a side of farmed Atlantic salmon in the familiar light orange with white streaks. Pricing wasn’t too far off one another – about $8/lb for the Atlantic, and $10/lb for the wild coho. Not having tried the wild coho for sashimi before, and having a preference for wild-caught fish over farmed, I decided to give the coho a try.

Different types of salmon are different species. They need to be treated as such and thought of as such. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur to me when I grabbed the coho for sashimi. Was it a bad choice, though? Not really. It’ s not bad, it’s just different.

Wild coho salmon is leaner than farmed Atlantic salmon. It’s probably not even a matter of wild versus farmed but a matter of the species with the Atlantic salmon having evolved with higher levels of body fat to thrive in the colder Atlantic waters. The fact that wild salmon are probably more active just accentuates this innate difference. This leads to the two notable differences between coho and Atlantic salmon when it comes to the eating experience: texture and taste.

Really, the only thing that isn’t different is the aroma, which I have to say isn’t a big part of the raw fish experience. So by saying that the texture and taste are different, I’m essentially saying that they are not at all alike.

The coho salmon, because it is leaner, is not nearly as smooth as Atlantic salmon. It doesn’t glide over your palate.  It feels like lean maguro (tuna) in texture but is noticeably denser than maguro. It is slightly less fatty and slightly less smooth than hamachi (yellowtail). It is nowhere close to the fatty, silky smooth texture of Atlantic salmon.

As a combination of its leanness and the fact that the fish had to survive in the wild, the coho salmon is also more savory than farmed Atlantic. It tastes “meatier”, reflecting the fact that a greater proportion of the meat is functional muscle conditioned to high levels of physical activity.

Which do I prefer? I actually prefer the silky smoothness of Atlantic salmon. I still enjoyed the coho salmon, it’s just that it needs to be thought of as a completely different fish.

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