What Is Coho Salmon?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Fresh silver salmon fillets (also known as coho salmon)

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Coho salmon, also called silver salmon, is one of seven species of Pacific salmon. It's considered the "in-between salmon": not too big but not too small, fatty but not too rich, with a firm-enough texture, and finally, pricey but not nearly the most expensive salmon you can buy.

What Is Coho Salmon?

Coho salmon are shiny ocean and river fish with a silver color that turns red when the fish swims upstream to breed; once this change occurs, their appearance alters (with a recognizable crooked mouth), and the fish becomes inedible. However, when caught in their silver state, between June and September, these fish are a flavorful delicacy. Ranging in weight from eight to 12 pounds, they have meat, like most salmon, that's an orange/pink color. Their diet is not exclusively krill as with other salmon but is more varied and includes squid and small fish. A coho will not be as orangey-red as sockeye or king salmon, but it will be about the same color as a farmed Atlantic salmon.

How to Cook Coho Salmon

Coho salmon have less fat than sockeye or king, but more than pink or chum salmon. This means a coho can dry out faster than the fattier species, making it an ideal fish to poach, as its relatively low-fat content benefits from this gentle cooking method. Pan-searing the salmon over medium heat for two minutes on each side and letting the fish rest for five minutes before serving is also a great and quick alternative. Use fresh herbs like dill and fatty sauces with butter or cream as enhancers of the beautiful mild flavor of the fish.

Coho is perfectly good smoked, but because of the fish's lower fat content, it's best to use cold-smoking processes. The fish also does well in gravlax, sashimi, and sushi preparations in its raw form, and even on the grill.

What Do Coho Salmon Taste Like?

Milder in taste compared with king salmon or other species, coho salmon is great for people who don't like a pungent fishy flavor. With a semi-firm flesh, this salmon has enough fat to be unctuous but not overpowering, and enough flavor to be filling and tasty but not too intense.

Coho Salmon vs. King Salmon

As its name indicates, king salmon is a top choice among salmon, from its high price to its strong flavor and great nutritional value. With more fat, protein, and calories in a 3-ounce serving, king salmon can stand on its own, while coho welcomes sauces (like a French rouille) and other flavors, a virtue that many appreciate as it lends itself to varied preparations and additional flavors. King salmon, also known as Chinook, is less available and more desirable, thus making it more expensive, whereas coho salmon is lower in price, making it a great choice for a special dinner that serves many guests.

These salmon are sometimes mistaken for one another, but keep in mind that king is usually bigger and their appearance is different: look especially for a spotted tail, darker color overall, and black color inside of the mouths and gums in king salmon. In coho salmon, the tail has few spots and their gums are white, even if the inside of the mouth is indeed black.

Coho Salmon Recipes

A favorite way to cook coho salmon is to dust cutlets in seasoned flour and sauté them in walnut or olive oil. But frying thin slices with the skin on until crispy is also a great way of presenting this fish, without discarding the omega-3 rich skin. Bake thicker fillets in a papillote, adding fresh herbs, lemon slices, and a touch of wine and olive oil. Season the fish with fish rub and grill it without moving it for a full five minutes flesh-side down, turn and cook for another three minutes and let rest before serving. Broil the salmon in a wine and butter seasoned sauce for three minutes on each side, basting the flesh with the sauce. Coho is also great in more typical salmon recipes.

Where to Buy Coho Salmon

This type of salmon is usually available in supermarkets and fish markets from July to October. Coho salmon might be available fresh and frozen, headed, gutted, and sold in a variety of cuts. When buying, look for fresh, firm-looking fish that appears moist. Moisture is a good indicator of freshness; avoid any fish that appears dried out, or any fish with brown spots, cloudy eyes, or areas where the skin has started to brown or curl up. 

Storing Coho Salmon

If using the salmon within two days of purchase, rinse the fish, pat dry with paper towels, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the coldest part of your fridge, checking that the temperature is 32 F. After two days, if not using, transfer the fish to the freezer to preserve its freshness, but add extra layers of plastic wrap protection, keeping the fillets airtight with a well-made case. Keep your salmon in the freezer for up to three months. If vacuum packed, the salmon can last in the freezer for up to eight months.

Nutrition and Benefits of Coho Salmon

With only 120 calories per 3-ounce serving and a whopping 20 grams of protein, this fish is also packed with important minerals and nutrients like selenium, niacin, B12, and vitamin D. With 4 grams of fat per serving, it still is a much leaner option than king salmon, which provides 7 grams of fat in the same serving size.