Coho salmon, also called silver salmon, are one of five species of salmon in North America. They are smaller than their sockeye and king salmon cousins, and they offer a milder taste. That makes silver salmon recipes the perfect choice for those who like a subtler salmon flavor.

Silver salmon are widespread. You can find them everywhere from California to Alaska, as well as throughout the northern Pacific Ocean.

What is silver salmon?

Wild silver salmon typically measure between 24 and 30 inches long, and weigh between eight and 12 pounds. They have dark blue or green backs and flashing silver sides that turn red when it’s time to return to their natal streams to spawn.

Silver Salmon recipes, Coho Salmon illustration
The coho, or silver salmon, is a handsome fellow, and found over a broader range than other Pacific salmon.

Like other salmon species, silver salmon are born in cold freshwater streams, sometimes hundreds of miles from the ocean. They hatch in gravel beds and grow into young adults in those streams and lakes before making their way to the ocean, where they feast on the bounty of prey on offer. There they grow strong before starting on their final journey back upstream to spawn and begin the next generation.

Along with other salmon species, wild silver salmon have been an important part of indigenous life in the Pacific Northwest for millennia. Tribes relied on yearly salmon runs for food, and they would smoke enough coho salmon to last all winter long. Today, members of many tribes still fish for salmon along their ancestral rivers using techniques passed down by their forebears.

They are joined by sport fishermen, who particularly prize silver salmon as a game fish for its athletic prowess and propensity to school in shallow waters. Silvers will aggressively chase lures. They can jump up to six feet out of the water, making for an oftentimes thrilling pursuit.

Line-caught wild silver salmon

Vital Choice’s wild silver salmon come from pristine Alaskan waters, where they’re line-caught by local fishermen working in the state’s sustainably managed salmon fisheries. Our salmon are harvested from populations certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council — a nonprofit that certifies fisheries around the world — and flash-frozen right on the boat to guarantee freshness.

Silver Salmon recipes, a fillet of silver salmon atop string beans
The flesh of coho salmon is noticeably less red than that of sockeye salmon. The difference comes from their diets. Sockeye salmon eat high quantities of ocean zooplankton, which contain a compound known as astaxanthin that lends their flesh a reddish tint. Coho salmon, by contrast, eat higher on the food chain — their diet includes herring, anchovies, sardines, and even juvenile salmon of other species.

Silver salmon taste and nutrition

Silver salmon taste milder than bolder-flavored sockeye or king salmon. That may please those who prefer a slightly less-fishy taste for their seafood. That said, coho still packs a satisfying flavor profile that’s more robust than whitefish like cod or halibut. In short, this is a perfect in-between for those who prefer fish that’s not too strong, not too mild.

Silvers have firm flesh that stands up well to heat, making them ideal for grilling, though their lower fat content means you’ll need to be careful not to dry them out while cooking.

Like all salmon, coho are an excellent source of lean protein and vitamin D, as well as a range of other nutrients, such as vitamin E, selenium, and iron. Though they have a bit less fat than some other salmon species, coho salmon still pack in 2,240 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. These compounds aren’t made by our bodies, so we need to get them through our diet — chiefly from seafood. Omega-3s are a vital component of our brains, eyes, and joints, and they are linked to better heart health.

How to cook silver salmon

With their lower fat content, silver salmon are a perfect option for cooking methods that help seal in moisture. Many silver salmon recipes call for poaching, which is a great, easy option for a quick meal. You can experiment with different liquids and seasonings to find the perfect blend for you. Some people prefer to poach their salmon in water or broth, well-seasoned with spices and herbs, while others opt for a few cups of wine in a saucepan. It’s hard to go wrong!

Silver salmon recipes showing king and silver sockeye
Contrast the two silver salmon fillets, on the left, with the king salmon on the right. Silver salmon is somewhat leaner, lending it a milder flavor some people prefer.

Another option for cooking silver salmon that helps retain moisture is the classic French technique known as en papillote. The fancy phrase simply means “in paper” and refers to the practice of wrapping fish in parchment paper before cooking. If you’re opting for the grill, this is an ideal way to make sure your salmon stays nice and tender. The paper seals in moisture, keeping fish succulent.

Many people like the classic pan-searing technique as well — especially with skin-on fillets. Just make sure to cook for no more than two minutes on each side to prevent the fish from drying out.

With their milder flavor, silver salmon pair well with savory, though not overwhelming, herbs and spices. Try fresh herbs such as dill or fatty sauces like butter or cream for a simple, well-balanced meal. Or, you can opt for premixed salmon spices from Vital Choice, like our Organic Lemon Pepper Seasoning or Signature Organic Salmon Seasoning for a blend that’s perfectly balanced for seafood.

Feeling more ambitious? Silver salmon is also ideal for the classic cold-cured Norwegian sushi appetizer called gravlax. This fresh, nutritious meal starter is salmon sliced thinly and cured overnight in a solution of salt, pepper, sugar, and clear alcohol — traditionally the Scandinavian spirit aquavit, but vodka works just as well. Serve with mustard sauce and fresh dill on top, along with crackers or bread.

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Nathaniel Scharping is a science writer and former Discover Magazine editor. He writes about health, the environment, biology, physics and more with Seattle-based Lunaris Creative.

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