Go Fish: Sockeye Salmon

Ahoy there mateys!

We had sockeye salmon on sale last week for $8.99/lb. and I think it’s continuing this week even. I had it for dinner 3 times last week, and I’m not mad about it. Although I am mad that I don’t have a grill. It has been way too hot in here in our lovely Cleveland Heights house with no A/C and no ventilation… yeah time to invest in a grill.

When I was buying my fish last week, I ended up talking to a customer about the best way to cook Sockeye Salmon, and he seemed genuinely enthused to have learned some new things; so I decided to post about it on the blog. It only recently occurred to me just how different this fish is from other types of salmon. Mainly in how it cooks, but also how it looks. These fish have a bright red body with a greenish head and tail. They have this hook-shaped mouth that almost resembles a beak.


I mean just look at these guys; they’re quite strange! They’re like birds of paradise in fish form! Interesting to note, their name has nothing to do with the appearance or structure of their eyes. The name is an anglicized version of an indigenous word (something like suk-kai) which simply meant “red fish”. They are indeed red, especially during their spawning cycle. Now they don’t always look like this, as they go through different life cycles; too bad by the time they reach the consumer, the skin isn’t red like this anymore.

Their flesh, however, is quite red. As they are almost always wild caught, you can be assured that this isn’t added color. Sockeye is also one of the most, if not most, sustainable species of salmon you can buy. Their primary harvest comes from Bristol Bay, Alaska which has a very well managed fishery. Alaskan Sockeye is generally going to be green-lit on seafood sustainability scales.

In regards to cooking, the important thing to note though is that they are not as fatty as their Atlantic cousins or Pacific brethren. Even though they have this amazingly rich color, the fish itself is not as rich as you may think. Sockeye do have a great pure salmon flavor though, the trick is just to not overcook it. They cook much faster and can easily dry out.


Love that color!

The best cooking method I have found is to pan-sear it on both sides and that’s it. You don’t need the oven to cook it all the way through, in fact that will dry it out. Alternatively you could grill it, but you would want to place it skin side down and never flip it.

Also for those of you who don’t know how to eat salmon properly. GET THE SKIN CRISPY AND EAT IT! High direct heat on the skin and make sure it’s salted. I have many customers that don’t eat the skin because they’re conditioned not to, but they haven’t actually TRIED properly cooked salmon skin. I try not to be pushy, but sometimes I tell them to make sure they try the skin, and I’ve managed to convert some people. Sorry, it’s one of my pet peeves…. that and when people really emphasize the A and the L when they say sal-mon…


Pat your fillets dry with a paper towel and let them come to room temperature. Season the fillets simply; salt, pepper, fresh squeeze of lemon or lime at the end. Get a pan really hot with some oil and place the fish in, then turn the heat down to medium. Traditional chef wisdom says to go skin-side down first, however there is a caveat to this. Your pan and oil have to be hot first, this is crucial because if not, it will stick. I hold my hand over the pan until it feels hot enough that I want to take my hand away, or you can wait for smoke and then turn the heat down to medium. If you want to be safe, just do the flesh side down first. Sear both sides about 5 minutes each, but this could vary depending on thickness.


Sockeye takes really good to a glaze at the end. You can get creative here combining different spicy, sweet, salty, and bright flavors. I used a Korean BBQ glaze, but you can try like a maple mustard glaze, miso honey, chipotle lime, or simply herb butter and lemon, just to give a few ideas.

For my multiple weeknight Sockeye Salmon dinners, I just kept it simple. Nothing fancy here, so there’s no recipe for this post.


Korean BBQ glazed Sockeye Salmon with snow peas and confetti orzo

I don’t recall specifically which type of orzo this is since it’s been in my pantry for some time, but I picked it up in the bulk section of Whole Foods.

If you’ve had a bad experience with sockeye because it was dry, please do give it another try! The main thing to remember is that it has a shorter cooking time than other fattier salmons. Sockeye are really delicious though when prepared properly, they’re highly nutritious; rich in protein and omega-3s, they’re sustainable, and they’re affordable.

Until next time,

May the fish be with you!

~Maki Zavelli


One thought on “Go Fish: Sockeye Salmon

  1. Nice post, Adam! I found your blog as a result of you commenting on my blog (G’day Souffle’). I know what you mean about the salmon skin sticking to the pan- more than once I’ve had to scrub the pan after frying the salmon!


Leave a message in a bottle...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s