I’ve always loved seafood. It’s a nutritious, lean source of protein that is quick and easy to cook—two things I value pretty highly when it comes to food. And ever since we moved to the Bay Area, my consumption of seafood has increased dramatically, especially with regard to fresh salmon. It makes sense when you consider that San Francisco boasts one of the most prolific runs of king salmon on the West Coast. I’m not sure if the prices per pound are a really that much more affordable than they are elsewhere in the states, but I like to think I’m doing my part to support the local wild fishing industry by eating it at least two to three times a week. Plus, it’s super nutritious!
Benefits of Wild Caught Salmon
Cold water fish like wild salmon are an amazing source of omega 3 fatty acids, which we know help protect against heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases. Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in both plant and marine sources, but cold water fish like salmon provide longer chain fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are important for brain and eye function. While it’s true that alpha-linolenic acid (the major plant source of omega 3s) can be converted to EPA and DHA, the conversation rates are low, especially for DHA so unless you follow a vegan diet you should be including cold water fish in your diet at least two to three times per week.
Need another reason to go fish? Increased consumption of omega 3-rich salmon may decrease your risk of developing precancerous skin lesions. Wild salmon also deliver a hefty dose of astaxanthin—a potent antioxidant known for its protective properties against free radicals. Astaxanthin has been shown to help protect against cardiovascular disease, inflammation, cancer, and aging (sayonara wrinkles!). Notice how I keep emphasizing wild when referring to salmon? Well…
Wild Versus Farm Raised Salmon
Wild salmon are nutritionally superior for many reasons. Because they are wild—i.e. swimming around and eating whatever they find in nature—their diet is more diverse and as such so is their nutritional content. Salmon raised in fish farms are fed a diet of pellets made of corn and soy products (most of which is likely GMO corn), chicken meal, canthaxanthin (a dye used to make the sad grey-colored farmed salmon more pinkish), and many other mouthwatering ingredients like fire retardant, pesticides, and antibiotics. Are you repulsed yet? Good!
A common misconception when comparing farmed versus wild salmon is that the farmed fish are higher in omega 3s simply because they contain more fat. However, because the farmed salmon are fed a grain-based pellet diet, they are actually much higher in omega 6 fatty acids compared to omega 3 fatty acids. In fact, wild salmon have a ratio of 6 and 9 to 1 of omega 3s to omega 6s whereas the ratio is around 1 to 1 for farmed salmon. When the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is skewed in favor of omega 6s, we are creating an ideal environment to support the development of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases, cancer, and autoimmune conditions. No bueno!
Farmed salmon are also subjected to unsanitary living conditions similar to factory farms. Crowded net pens filled with tens of thousands of fish mean salmon have no way to move around and are swimming in their own waste. They are more susceptible to things like sea lice and environmental toxins whereas wild salmon are less likely to be exposed to PCBs. While I’m not going to get into here, farmed salmon also wreak major, major havoc on our environment. The bottom line? Farmed salmon should be avoided at all costs.
If you can’t afford fresh, wild caught salmon on the regular (and I totally get it because it ain’t cheap!), you’re better off finding an alternate source of omega 3 fatty acids versus slumming it with farmed salmon. Honestly.
I recommend downloading this app and guide for buying seafood: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch App and Website. It’s a great resource to peruse and utilize whenever you’re buying fresh or frozen fish!
Selecting the Best Species
In general there are six species of salmon. The best in both nutrition content and flavor is the king or chinook salmon (it’s also the most expensive). This salmon is buttery and mild and offers heaps of omega 3 fatty acids. Because of its delicate texture, it’s best roasted or baked. Coho is another milder option that may be a bit less expensive compared to king and is equally rich in nutrients and omega 3s. If you really love salmon and don’t mind a more intense fishy flavor, give sockeye salmon a try. This species boasts a brighter pink color and is a bit more durable than king salmon making it a perfect contender for grilling or pan searing. It’s also illegal for sockeye salmon to be farmed making it a safe choice regardless of the wild label. Steer clear of any salmon called Atlantic as this is the designation given to farmed species.
Fresh Salmon Cakes Are My Favorite
My salmon love affair began when I was in ninth grade, after my dad went on a fishing expedition to Alaska. I don’t remember exactly how much salmon he caught, but suffice to say that we had to get another refrigerator for our garage to store it all. Or at least it took up the entire freezer space in our second fridge—irrelevant details. The point is we had a serious salmon situation going on that year. My mom had to get pretty creative with how she prepared it to keep two teenagers (my brother and I) interested in eating it as often as we did. Enter the irresistible fresh salmon cake recipe.
Now this was obviously not your typical salmon cake because it uses fresh salmon instead of canned. I know that really high quality, sustainable canned seafood brands exist (and are quite delicious) but I simply can’t bring myself to use canned salmon in this recipe after having tasted it with fresh wild-caught salmon. Though it does require a bit more preparation if you’re starting with fresh fish, I would argue that it’s totally worth it.
Plus, this fresh salmon cake recipe is the perfect use for leftover salmon. In fact, it’s probably the only acceptable one unless you want everyone in your office to scowl at you for bringing fish to work in your lunch pail. Capiche?
// RECIPE //
Fresh Salmon Cake – Paleo, Grain Free
| Ingredients |
1 lb fresh, wild caught salmon
4 tbs almond flour or meal
1 egg, beaten
3-4 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh dill, chopped
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1-2 tbs coconut oil for pan searing
salt + pepper to taste
dash of paprika
| Instructions |
Cook the salmon; saute red onion and red bell pepper.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place salmon skin side down on a baking sheet lightly brushed with coconut oil. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-18 minutes until salmon is flaky.
- While salmon is baking, saute red onion and red bell pepper in a small bit of coconut oil.
- Chill vegetables in fridge until ready for forming cakes.
- Remove salmon from oven and cover with aluminum foil for 10 additional minutes on countertop.
- Remove skin and place in fridge to chill for 30 minutes or overnight if not planning to cook until the following day.
For the cakes:
- Take chilled salmon and use your hands to flake the salmon into small pieces. Place in a mixing bowl.
- Remove any bones you notice as you go along.
- Place remaining ingredients except for coconut oil into bowl (don’t forget about the red onion and red bell pepper you chilled!).
- Stir to combine. Using a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop into small cakes and place on a pan lined with parchment paper.
- After forming into cakes, place back in fridge for around 30 minutes to set. The steps up to this point can be done the day before if you like.
- Heat 1-2 tsp coconut oil in a pan. The oil should be very hot—check by flicking a bit of water into the oil. If the oil sizzles, it’s ready.
- Remove chilled salmon cakes from the fridge and carefully place into hot oil using a spatula. Sear cakes for roughly 3-4 minutes per side. Remember the fish is already cooked so we are only trying to add a nice sear to the exterior (and cook the egg)!
- Serve atop a bed of arugula or sauteed greens or top with dill cashew cream or peach mango salsa.
You’ll notice that I labeled the recipe “paleo” and “grain free.”Since I tend to limit the amount of refined grains and carbohydrates in my diet because it makes me feel my best, I decided to give my mom’s famous fresh salmon cake recipe a paleo makeover by using almond flour instead of breadcrumbs for the binding. You can read about my take on the paleo diet here. These paleo salmon cakes are excellent as a meal or appetizer and they can be prepared up to a day or two in advance and then pan seared right before serving. They are delicious with fresh lemon and a dollop of dill cashew cream or my peach mango salsa. Uh, yum.
I promise salmon lovers will seriously go crazy for this recipe and you may even convert some salmon skeptics—seriously. They are that good! Plus all your friends will think you are the fanciest cook ever. Hashtag winning.
Oh and before I forget, I have some exciting news! As promised, I’ll be upping my blog posts to twice weekly starting this month every Friday. Hooray! All the party confetti emojis! The Friday posts will be significantly shorter and will aim to give you a little insight into my pantry and market basket along with helpful cooking tips and nutrition facts…Sort of similar to the Nutrition Truth Tuesday posts I used to share on Instagram before launching the blog because I know you’ve missed them (wink)!
Have you ever taken a family recipe and healthified it before? Share your experience and faves below! Seriously nothing makes me happier than hearing from you all and learning how you live honestly nourished!