The Complete Guide to Salmon: Buying and Storing Salmon | Yummly

The Complete Guide to Salmon: Buying & Storing Salmon

Part II of our comprehensive guide to salmon focuses on how to buy salmon, how to store salmon, and everything in between. Join us for a little salmon knowledge-sharing!

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This is Part II in a series. Here is Part I: The Complete Guide to Salmon: Salmon 101 and Part III: The Complete Guide to Salmon: Preparing & Cooking Salmon.

High in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is one of our favorite good-for-you foods, and it also happens to be totally delicious. Because salmon can be pricey, you’re going to want to know how to buy and store it so you can get maximum enjoyment out of every luscious bite. With that in mind, here’s our guide to your most common questions.

Jump ahead to:

How to buy fresh salmon >>

How to buy frozen salmon >>

How to buy smoked salmon >>

How to buy salmon roe >>

Salmon storage >>

How to freeze salmon >>

How to defrost salmon >>

How to reheat salmon >>

How long is cooked salmon good for? >>

How to tell if salmon is bad >>

12 more favorite salmon recipes >>

How to buy fresh salmon

When you’re buying fresh salmon at the grocery store or fish market, first consider how the salmon looks. It should be light pink if it’s farmed salmon and dark pink if it’s wild-caught salmon (that is, if it's wild king salmon, aka Chinook, or sockeye salmon, the two most popular species; other wild salmon species are lighter pink). It shouldn’t have any gray areas or brown blemishes. It should look moist and firm. But you should use your instincts: If it looks bad, it probably is bad. 

When you’ve made your selection, smell the salmon if possible before you commit to buying it. It shouldn’t smell fishy even when your nose is next to it. It should have a mild, sea breeze scent, but you should have to put effort into smelling it to get a reading. Again, use your instincts: If it smells bad, it probably is bad. 

How do I know salmon is fresh? 

The two ways to determine if salmon is fresh are by appearance and smell. The flesh of the salmon should be firm and pink and the scent should be very mild — it should smell like an ocean breeze. If it smells fishy, skip it. 

How to buy salmon at a grocery store 

If you’re buying salmon at the grocery store, it was probably flash-frozen when it was caught and then thawed to be put on display. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s probably better that way than having fresh fish shipped in, because any time in transit is time for the quality to diminish. That said, always make sure the flesh is pink, moist (but not slimy), and doesn’t look dried out or wilted. When you smell it, it shouldn’t smell like much of anything but salty, ocean air. A fishy smell means it’s past its prime. 

How much does salmon cost?

Salmon is sold by the pound or by the ounce. For a 6-oz. serving of wild salmon, you can expect to spend $6 to $12. Farm-raised salmon costs a little bit less. A 6-oz. serving of farm-raised salmon might cost you $6 to $8 per piece. Smoked salmon costs a bit more — it might cost double what you’d spend for fresh salmon.

Wild vs. farmed salmon

Wild-caught salmon is fished from its natural habitat in or near the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Wild salmon often comes with a higher price tag because of its limited supply but it’s also available frozen and canned year-round. 

Farmed salmon is usually labeled Atlantic salmon whether it’s raised in Maine, the Faroe Islands, Chile, Norway, British Columbia, or other locations. The salmon is raised in a contained area with a controlled environment and diet.

How to buy wild salmon

For wild salmon, if you want it to be fresh, you should buy it based on the time of year. Wild salmon season usually runs from May to September. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get wild salmon at other times of the year. Frozen wild salmon is sometimes considered better than fresh salmon because it’s frozen fresh off the boat and then shipped. The quality of fresh wild salmon starts to deteriorate as soon as it’s harvested, but frozen salmon bypasses that part, making it the superior choice. 

There are five species of wild salmon. The two most popular are king, also known as Chinook, which has the most fat and a mild but rich flavor, and sockeye, which has a deeper flavor and is lower in fat. King and sockeye salmon are the types of salmon you see most often in the fresh fish case at the market. Other species of wild salmon are Coho (aka silver), pink, and keta (also called chum); they’re popular for smoked salmon, canned salmon, and salmon burgers.

How to buy salmon for sushi 

If you’re buying salmon for sushi, you’ll probably see a section of fish labeled “sushi-grade,” but that’s really just for marketing purposes. For serving raw salmon in things like sushi and poke bowls, just make sure you’re buying the freshest, most high-quality salmon that’s available. Most raw salmon you find at markets has been frozen, which kills parasites, but if you plan to eat the fish raw, understand that there is a risk of foodborne illness. 

How to buy sustainably raised salmon

In terms of making ocean-friendly buying choices, there’s a lot to know about how salmon is raised. If you want sustainably raised salmon, check the recommendations from Seafood Watch. It will tell you the best choices and best alternatives based on how the salmon are caught or farmed and how the fisheries are managed.

How to buy salmon cheap 

If you want to buy the least expensive salmon, look for Atlantic salmon because it’s farmed and, therefore, less expensive. But if you must have fresh, wild-caught salmon, buy it between May and July for the best quality and biggest supply; however, it will be more expensive. Buying frozen salmon is your best bet for inexpensive uncooked wild salmon. And if your recipe calls for pre-cooked salmon, canned salmon is a very inexpensive option.

How to buy frozen salmon

Most frozen salmon will be wrapped tightly in packaging, and if the packaging is opaque, this makes it difficult to tell if it’s good or not — which means you should pay attention to how the salmon looks when you unwrap it. If the packaging is clear, the most important thing to look for is whether or not ice crystals have formed. Ice crystals mean that the fish has been frozen, thawed, and frozen again, and will have lost moisture and quality. The other thing to look for is freezer burn. If fish has freezer burn, the flesh around the edges will be visibly dry and a lighter color than the rest of the fish. 

How to buy smoked salmon

How you buy smoked salmon depends on what kind of smoked salmon you want. There’s cold smoked salmon which is first cured in salt and then smoked at a low temperature — typically 80°F or cooler. The result is a very smooth, translucent flesh that’s best served in thin slices. Hot smoked salmon is cured and then smoked at a temperature of 120°F and higher. It yields something more like cooked salmon — it’s opaque, flaky, and has a very smoky flavor. When buying either cold smoked or hot smoked salmon, pay attention to the expiration date. After opening, it will last in the refrigerator for a week.

How to buy salmon roe

Also referred to as red caviar or ikura, salmon roe is a specialty item that you can buy fresh or canned. Pink salmon, the most plentiful Pacific salmon, has the most popular roe. Pink salmon roe is medium-sized. If you want larger eggs, keta (chum) roe is an option. If you want smaller eggs, look for sockeye roe. If you buy roe in a jar, there will be preservatives because they’re required by law to keep the roe safe. If you’re buying frozen roe, you can find it without preservatives; just make sure that it’s flash-frozen and packaged in a vacuum-sealed container. 

Salmon storage

Salmon freshness (and of course, salmon safety) are key to enjoying the fish at its best. How long you can store salmon depends on whether it’s at room temperature, in the refrigerator, or in the freezer.

How long is salmon good for? 

Fresh salmon does not last very long without refrigeration. Unrefrigerated raw salmon lasts for about two hours at room temperature before it starts breaking down. 

How long can raw salmon sit out? 

Raw salmon can sit out for about two hours before it starts spoiling. 

How long does salmon last in the fridge?

Salmon and other fish and seafood do not keep for very long — at most, fresh, raw salmon will last two days in your refrigerator. To be safe, if you buy fresh salmon, plan to cook it the same night. Frozen fish should be thawed and cooked the same day. You can keep fish in the freezer indefinitely and safety won’t be an issue, but quality will diminish over time. 

How to store salmon in the fridge

If you want your raw salmon to last as long as possible without freezing it, pack it in ice in the refrigerator to slow down decomposition. 

How long is sushi-grade salmon good for?

Because sushi-grade salmon is raw, it lasts for about two days if it’s refrigerated. If it’s sitting out, it will be OK to eat for about two hours. 

How long is smoked salmon good for? 

You can keep an unopened package of smoked salmon in the refrigerator for two weeks. After opening, smoked salmon lasts about a week in the refrigerator. 

How do you store salmon roe? 

An unopened jar of salmon roe can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Once a jar of roe is opened, it should be eaten immediately, but it will last in the refrigerator for two days, three days at most. 

How do you store salmon patties? 

If you make salmon patties and want to store them raw, they will be OK in the refrigerator for up to two days. You can keep them in the freezer as long as you want, but the quality starts to go down after about three months. Cooked salmon patties will last in the refrigerator for two days and in the freezer for about six months without losing quality. 

How to freeze salmon

If you want to freeze raw salmon, rinse it, pat it dry, and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Place it in an airtight container or zip-top bag, and freeze it. Make sure to label the salmon with the date and use it within three months. To freeze cooked salmon, place it in an airtight container, label it with the date, and use it within six months. 

What is the best way to freeze salmon?

The best way to freeze raw salmon is to rinse it, pat it dry, and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Then place in a container or zip-top bag, date it, and freeze it. Use it within three months for the optimum quality. 

How long can you store salmon in the freezer? 

You can store raw salmon in the freezer for three months before the quality starts to go down. Cooked salmon can be stored in the freezer for six months before it starts losing its quality. 

Can you freeze fresh salmon from the grocery store?

You can freeze fresh salmon from the grocery store for up to three months. 

Can you freeze raw salmon? 

You can freeze raw salmon wrapped tightly in plastic. It has a shelf life of three months before the quality starts to diminish.

Does freezing salmon ruin it/Is it bad to freeze salmon? 

Freezing salmon is a great way to store salmon raw or cooked. The quality will start to go down for raw salmon after three months and six months for cooked salmon. 

Can you freeze cooked salmon?

You can freeze cooked salmon, tightly wrapped in a freezer bag, for up to six months without it losing quality. 

Can you freeze smoked salmon?

You can freeze smoked salmon for up to six months without compromising quality. If the package has been opened, wrap the smoked salmon tightly in plastic and then seal in a container or a zip-top bag. 

Can salmon be refrozen? 

You should avoid refreezing salmon unless it was thawed in the refrigerator and never reached room temperature. If you refreeze salmon that was already brought up to room temperature, it’s at risk for causing foodborne illness. 

Can you cook frozen salmon? 

If you want to cook a salmon filet that’s frozen solid, you can cook salmon without thawing it first. It’s best to cook frozen salmon in a tightly covered baking dish in the oven, but it will take a bit longer for the salmon to reach the safe internal temperature of 145°F. However, it’s ideal to defrost salmon first before cooking. 

How to defrost salmon

Looking for salmon thawing instructions? The best way to defrost salmon is by placing it in the refrigerator overnight. However, you can thaw frozen salmon under cold running water. Or thaw frozen salmon in the microwave using the “defrost” function; you just need an accurate weight of the salmon you are thawing so you don’t accidentally cook it. The one thing you should keep in mind is that when you remove it from the microwave, the salmon should still be very cold. 

How long is salmon good for after thawing? 

After thawing, uncooked salmon is good up to two days in the refrigerator. 

How to defrost salmon overnight? 

If you want to defrost your salmon overnight, place it in a bowl in the refrigerator. It should be cold but supple when it’s thawed. 

How to defrost salmon in hot water?

You should not thaw salmon in hot water; it puts you at risk for foodborne illness. If you want to thaw salmon in water, put the salmon (sealed in plastic) in a bowl and leave it in the sink with the faucet streaming cold water over it. 

How do you defrost salmon fillets? 

The best way to defrost or thaw salmon fillets is by putting them in the refrigerator overnight. However, they can be thawed in the microwave if you know the weight of the fillets to be entered into your microwave on defrost mode. You can also place sealed packages of frozen salmon in a bowl under cold running water until the salmon is pliable. 

How long is thawed salmon good for vacuum-sealed? 

After vacuum-sealed salmon is thawed, it will last in the refrigerator for about two days. 

How to reheat salmon

The best way to reheat salmon is in the oven at 300°F with a heatproof covering until it reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F, or 125°F if you’re more concerned with flavor than safety. You should avoid reheating salmon in the microwave. 

How do you reheat salmon in the microwave?

You should avoid reheating salmon in the microwave, but if you don’t have any other options, set the microwave on low power (about 30 percent power) and cook in 20-second intervals until the salmon reaches the safe internal temperature of 165°F or 125°F if you’re willing to risk safety for juiciness. 

How do you reheat salmon in the oven? 

Salmon should be reheated in the oven at a temperature of 300°F. To prevent it from drying out, cover the salmon with aluminum foil. It should take 10 to 15 minutes to bring the internal temperature up. The safe internal temperature for reheating any cooked food is 165°F, but if you are not afraid of the risk, you can heat it to 125°F without compromising its flavor and texture. 

How long is cooked salmon good for?

Cooked salmon stays fresh up to two days in the refrigerator. If you leave it out, cooked salmon is good for about two hours. 

How long can cooked fish sit out? 

Like with most opened, perishable foods, cooked salmon can sit out for up to two hours and still be safely eaten.

How long does cooked salmon last in the fridge? 

You can keep cooked salmon in the refrigerator for up to two days before it starts to spoil. 

Can you freeze cooked salmon? 

You can freeze cooked salmon if you seal it in a freezer bag or in an airtight container. 

How to tell if salmon is bad

Signs of salmon spoilage: It will be slimy and have an unmistakable fishy smell. It also may have brown spots or discoloration. 

Can you eat salmon a day out of date? 

Expiration dates and use-by dates should be used as guidelines. Fish may be good a day after the date printed on the packaging, and it’s possible for the fish to spoil before the date (though it is unlikely).

What happens if you eat old salmon? 

You probably won’t get sick if you eat old salmon. The foodborne illnesses you could get from salmon have nothing to do with the freshness of the fish. They’re caused by fish that hasn’t been stored properly, has been handled without proper sanitation practices, or has been inadequately cooked.

12 more favorite salmon recipes

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So much to love about salmon

Now that you've read Part II of our comprehensive guide to salmon, be sure to check out Parts I and III, as well as another can’t-miss collection of salmon recipes.

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The Complete Guide to Salmon: How to Prepare and Cook Salmon

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