Copper River Salmon – A Taste Test

Spanish-Style Salmon with Fennel, Orange & Olive Relish

If you like sunshine, June is generally a horrible month in Seattle.  As summer launches in most places, we have grey skies and rain, often lots of rain.

There is one consolation: fresh wild Alaska salmon, in particular, salmon from the Copper River.  The season starts around mid-May with great fanfare around the first shipment’s arrival from Alaska.  With appetizing red-orange flesh, it is edible sunshine.

How does regular wild Alaska salmon differ from that of the famed Copper River?  As explained on the Copper River Salmon website salmon from this river develop “extra stores of omega-3 fatty acids,” because they travel 300 miles up the intense Copper River system to their spawning grounds.  The Copper River, named for the copper deposits along the riverbanks, is the 10th largest river in the United States, dropping an average of 12 feet per mile and draining 24,000 square miles. 

But can you taste the difference?  Last Sunday my husband brought home two types of wild salmon for a taste test.  One was a filet of Copper River (CR) King at $40 per pound and the other was troll-caught King salmon at $20 per pound from another part of Alaska. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

 He grilled the fish with nothing but a sprinkle of Hawaiian black salt and freshly ground black pepper. The non-CR salmon was moist, rich and flavorful – a pure pleasure. The CR salmon stood out with a deeper red-orange color and even fuller flavor.  Is it worth twice the price when the other is so good?  You decide.

With salmon, good health goes along with good taste. Consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)  is associated with the prevention of heart disease.  The King (Chinook) salmon species is the richest with about 11 grams of fat with 1700 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) per 3 ounce cooked serving. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

 Sockeye (red) salmon has about 9 grams of fat per serving and 1200 mg omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing website .   

Research shows additional, fascinating benefits to consuming omega-3 oils, such as support of the immune system, lower blood pressure, mental and visual health.  The website Fats of Life  is a resource for more information on these health effects. 

There is more than good fat to salmon – it is also a source of top quality protein with 21 to 24 grams of protein per 3 ounce cooked serving. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans  2010   recommends consumption of about 8 ounces of seafood weekly “for the total package of benefits that seafood provides, including its EPA and DHA content. Seafood choices can include those with higher and lower amounts of EPA and DHA, but, some choices with higher amounts should be included. Smaller amounts of seafood are recommended for children.”  See p. 38-39 and 85 of the Guidelines for more information.

Simple is often best when cooking extraordinary seafood.  Start with buying impeccably fresh salmon from a reliable merchant with good turnover and proper handling techniques.  I typically bring an ice chest when purchasing fish so it stays cool on the ride home and cook it the same day. Choose seasonings that complement but don’t mask its flavor – and avoid overcooking it.

To embellish your salmon with more than salt and pepper, try this recipe, inspired by the cooking of Spain.  The salmon has a smoked paprika rub and is topped with a relish of thinly sliced fresh fennel, orange segments, green olives and a handful of Marcona almonds. 

Photo by Lorelle Del matto

 Spanish-Style Salmon with Fennel, Orange & Olive Relish

1 1/2 pounds salmon filet, cut into 4 (6-ounce) servings

Smoked Paprika Seasoning:

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


Fennel, Orange & Olive Relish:

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups fresh orange segments (from about 2 large oranges)

2 cups very thinly sliced fresh fennel bulb

1 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/3 cup roasted Marcona almonds

Combine Seasoning ingredients in small bowl; set aside.  For relish, in medium bowl stir together sherry vinegar, mustard, honey, orange zest, salt and several grinds of black pepper. Stir in olive oil.    Stir orange segments, fennel, onions, olives and thyme into olive oil mixture.  Chill until serving time.  To cook fish, spread Seasoning evenly on salmon filets.  Grill or broil, until fish is opaque in center.  To serve, top fish with relish and sprinkle with almonds.   Makes 4 servings.

Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. Lizzie Kirschner says

    This looks so delicious and I can’t wait to try the recipe! Where would you recommend buying the salmon from/ where do you normally go to buy your salmon? PCC or somewhere in Pike Place Market?

    • I often buy fish from the Pike Place Market but there are also two good fishmongers in Issaquah, one near Fisher’s Meats on Front Street and another near the QFC on Gillman Blvd. It’s nice to supportI the small stores. At PCC you can call and pre-order something fresh but otherwise the fish is pre-packaged so you have to check for freshness. Sometimes it’s pre-frozen which I avoid unless fresh fish is out of season.

      I hope you’re eating fantastic Italian food, seeing outstanding art and having a WONDERFUL TIME!


  1. […] king salmon are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, just like pigmented kings.   See my blog post about Copper River Salmon for more on salmon […]

  2. […] health benefits of the omega-3 fats in salmon (and other fatty fish), discussed in my blogpost on Copper River salmon  have boosted salmon’s popularity and led to booming fish oil […]

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