Chinook salmon is the largest among Pacific salmon species. It is also referred to as spring salmon, Quinnat salmon, and, most commonly, king salmon.
Chinook salmon ranges between 24 to 36 inches, but an adult specimen can grow up to 58 inches. The weight varies even more drastically – the fish can weigh between 10 to 50 lbs, with an especially large specimen able to reach over 100 lbs.
Chinook salmon also varies in coloring: while its sides are silver and ventral surfaces white, its back can be red, purple, or even blue-green, with the tail and upper body sporting black spots. That combination of black spots and silver tail is unique among Pacific salmon species.
Can you eat chinook salmon? Yes, as long as it’s properly cooked through, wild-caught Chinook salmon is perfectly edible. The Chinook salmon meat can be both more common pink and white, depending on what the salmon has been feeding on.
Chinook Salmon is Perfectly Edible – with as Small Caveat
Wild salmon, Chinook salmon among them, often get a rep of being dangerous to consume.
This can be true to a certain degree – the Chinook salmon can be dangerous to consume if the fisherman hasn’t kept salmon in the right conditions after the catch, if the salmon’s a “rotter” (more on that below), or if the salmon hasn’t been cooked through well.
A “rotter” is jargon for a salmon whose body is decaying but is still trying to reproduce, thus laying on redds. This tends to happen because when salmon enter the rivers to spawn, they stop feeding and redirect all their energy to the reproduction process, which causes their bodies to start breaking down. But the instinct to spawn is so strong that they continue their attempts until the very end. If a fisherman catches one and either takes it home to eat or sells to an unsuspecting customer, this may have consequences, since, well – no good can come from eating any sort of rotten meat.
But as long the salmon is kept in the right conditions and thoroughly cooked through – it’s absolutely harmless (and quite delicious). With bold flavor and supple, flaky texture due to its high-fat content, the Chinook salmon is often characterized as “robust” rather than wild.
How to Keep Chinook Salmon Safe for Consumption
To keep Chinook salmon safe for consumption, the fisherman must adhere to the following recommendations:
- Avoid fish with signs of visible decay;
- Keep the fish alive as long as possible. Since the fish are covered in bacteria when caught and the more time passes between the catch and cleaning, the higher the chances of bacteria growing – keep the time between the two to less than two hours.
- Have a cooler on hand to store the fish to prevent the fish decaying;
- Make sure to work with utensils that have been properly sanitized when cleaning the fish;
- Freeze (or can, or smoke) the fish, unless the plan is to cook and eat it the same day.
Chinook Salmon Characteristics
There are other benefits to eating Chinook salmon, aside from soft and tender flesh, with a great flavor profile, you’re sure to enjoy if you’re a seafood lover.
First of all, Chinook salmon, specifically, is one of the best sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and protein, even among the salmon species, not to mention other fish.
Wild-caught salmon, generally, are also great sources of some highly important minerals, such as iron, copper, magnesium, and phosphorous, among others. They can also be a great source of calcium, but it’s their bones that can act as a calcium source, not the flesh. So unless you plan to eat salmon bones anytime soon (which I doubt you are), you’d be better off with some other type of fish, with softer bones that are generally consumed alongside the flesh – like sardines.
Alongside minerals, wild salmon is also rich in several vitamins like A, B-6, B-12, and D. Chinook salmon, specifically, is a fantastic source of B-12. But do keep in mind that any vitamin D that comes from any type of food source (not just salmon, or generally fish) is only a supplement for the main source – sunlight. It cannot act as an independent source and fix vitamin D deficiency on its own – though it will be of great help.
You might come across information that Chinook salmon does have higher mercury levels than other salmons – and that is true. But the fact that often goes unmentioned is that salmon, in general, is a low-mercury fish, and Chinook salmon is overall no exception. While it does have the highest mercury levels for salmon, those levels are still much lower than what is considered to be dangerous.
How to Cook Chinook Salmon
As mentioned above multiple times what truly makes Chinook salmon safe for consumption is the proper cooking method.
This is because wild-cough fish, with Chinook salmon being no exception, carry a higher risk of parasites (though parasites infecting saltwater fish – i.e. salmon – is still rarer than freshwater fish). Those parasites, though, tend to be very vulnerable to heat – so as long as the fish in question is cooked through, it’s of absolutely no danger.
However, if you’re determined to consume the fish raw or undercooked – make sure it’s been frozen beforehand at -14°F. Many parasites are just as vulnerable to extreme cold as extreme heat so it should do the trick (however it’s still not as effective as heat, since some microorganisms can survive extreme cold – so cooking’s still the best route to go).
Grilled salmon is a classic recipe and there’s no need to change it up with Chinook salmon. If anything, due to the flaky flesh and higher fat contents, the recipe will render even better results!
Simply rub the salmon with salt and pepper (add some other spices like Italian seasoning mix, if you wish, but use only a small amount – you don’t want to overpower the fish), drizzle with an ample amount of olive oil, and grill in the oven for around 15 to 18 minutes, until it’s cooked through.
Then squeeze a lemon wedge over it, and enjoy.