Salmon has become kind of boring. Like chicken, it’s now the default alternative to red meat on many restaurant menus. Salmon is no longer an exotic fish; it’s a commodity, competing largely on price, and the consequence is there’s a lot of mediocre salmon on the market.

Superficially considered, it may seem that farmed salmon is a better choice than wild salmon: if the fish are raised on a farm, the reasoning goes, the stocks cannot be overfished as they might be in the wild. But salmon farms are many times no better than corporate feedlots that produce beef and pigs. What you have is a lot of living creatures, living in confinement and very close together, many times treated with antibiotics so they don’t pass illnesses to one another. Not good.

But this is the time of year for Copper River Salmon, which has relatively limited availability and is way better than most salmon you’ll find anywhere else.

Delicate, with light brininess (salmon travel in and out of fresh and salt waters), this Alaskan caught breed is a fantastic version of the fish.

If, like me, you’ve grown a bit bored of salmon, Copper River Salmon could change your mind.

Copper River salmon might be as good as it is because it’s wild caught, not farmed. Also, although the Copper River was so named because it was once an area where the metal was mined, there is limited industry up in that area now, and so the approximately 300-mile Copper River is largely fresh and clean, and thus conducive to quality fish. Unlike salmon taken in other parts of the world, Copper River salmon is very low in PCBs, mercury and other contaminants, which tend to accumulate in fat.

And fat, with fish, is not a bad thing. Because Copper River Salmon must swim from the ocean through the 300-mile river to spawn, without eating en route, they need to build up big fat reserves…and fat in fish, as in mammals, means flavor.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is very, very careful about avoiding over-harvesting because they realize, as other fishing regions most definitely should, that failing to fish sustainably effectively damns the long-range sustainability of the fishing industry.  Alaskan game officials electronically count the salmon moving the Copper River, and they require that only a certain number of fish be taken – in a sustainable manner – to ensure there will be more of the fish in years to come.

Available at Whole Foods until probably around Friday of this week, Copper River Salmon Is not cheap: it’s about $20-26/pound. But recommended portion size for proteins is like 4 ounces, so if you and your significant other want to try some Copper River Salmon for dinner, it will run you as low as $10 all in for both of you. You will not regret the investment.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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