Learn about the differences between Sockeye, Chinook, Coho, Chum and Pink salmon

Photo courtesy John Sherlock

A sense of anticipation hangs thick in the air of a bustling historic fishing village nestled in the southeastern corner of Richmond, B.C.

“The Salmon Capital of the World” was home to no less than 15 cannerieslining the banks of the Fraser River in Steveston, including the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, the “Monster Cannery”, this year celebrating their 120th anniversary and 20 years as a museum commemorating Canada’s West Coast fishing industry, a Parks Canada National Historic Site. 2014 is also a dominant year for the four-year cycle Sockeye run, when millions of Sockeye salmon are expected to return to the Fraser River, possibly in record numbers.

While Sockeye is the most economically important salmon, there are five types of indigenous salmon: Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink and Sockeye. Let’s take a look at the differences between them and how to cook them to show them off at their best.

Chinook Salmon

Chinook, or King Salmon is the largest salmon found in the area. It is the first species to return to our waters in the season (April to September) so is also known as “Spring Salmon”. Its flesh ranges from pale white to rich red. Most people prefer to buy their Chinook fresh rather than smoked or canned, to make the most of its naturally rich flavour. The simplest way to prepare fresh Chinook is to grill it, taking advantage of its moist, firm flesh.

Coho Salmon

Coho salmon, or Silver salmon, caught June to October, has a reddish-orange firm flesh, and is known for its finer texture. With a mid-range fat content, Coho can be grilled or broiled, but is also ideal for slower, gentle cooking methods, such as poaching or sautéing.

Chum Salmon

Chum is caught later in the season (July to November) and its flesh is creamy pink to medium red. With a low fat content and milder flavour, it’s best cooked with moisture (such as poaching or steaming) or marinated before grilling. Chum is also known to produce the tastiest salmon roe.

Pink Salmon

Pink salmon is the smallest and most abundant species, caught July to September and, as its name hints, has lighter coloured flesh, and a milder flavour. Recently, many west coast chefs have worked hard to elevate the Pink salmon’s status, as it’s a sustainable, affordable choice that often doesn’t receive the respect it deserves. Pink salmon doesn’t keep fresh as long as the other types (2 to 3 days), so it may be best to purchase it frozen. Due to its low fat content, it is important to keep the salmon moist while cooking. Simply baste the fish often while cooking or lightly grilling, and serve with a sauce such as tartar or a fruit salsa.

Sockeye Salmon

Finally, Sockeye salmon, caught July to September, has a high fat content, deep red firm flesh andequally rich flavour, so it’s best for ‘less is more’ methods of preparation, to allow its rich colour and flavour to stand out. When grilling, baking or broiling sockeye, a guideline is to cook for 10 minutes per inch thickness at its thickest part.

Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site

Steveston, once nicknamed “Salmonopolis”, is a thirty minute drive from Vancouver, and is known for its historic sites, great selection of restaurants and fresh seafood that can be bought straight from the fishing boats docked at Fisherman’s Wharf. When the Sockeye return this summer, as they did during the last dominant run in 2010, hundreds of visitors are expected to flock to Steveston to stock up on fresh salmon as fast as the boats can load them in.

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site is celebrating salmon and other sustainable seafood at “Best Catch” Sustainable Seafood Festival, on Sunday September 14. Local chefs and seafood suppliers are demonstrating best practices for fishing and seafood production to maintain a sustainable, healthy food source for generations to come.

To commemorate the double 120th/20th anniversary of the site, on weekends throughout July and August, the Cannery is offering Salmon Taste Tests where you can compare different types of canned salmon; and Fish Tales, with demos and discussions by local fishermen.

Gulf of Georgia Cannery is at 12138 Fourth Avenue at Moncton, Steveston Village, Richmond, 604-664-9009, gulfofgeorgiacannery.com. Open daily, year round 10am-5pm, Adults $7.80, 6-16 years $3.90, Under 6 Free.

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