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What are cuts of salmon called?

Salmon is one of the most popular fish consumed around the world. Not only is it delicious, but salmon is also nutritious, being high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. There are many different ways to prepare salmon, but before cooking it, you need to know how to buy it. When purchasing salmon at the grocery store or fish market, you’ll likely come across different cuts and types of salmon. So what are the different cuts of salmon and what are they called?

Types of Salmon

There are five main types of salmon that are commercially fished and sold:

  • Chinook salmon (also known as king salmon)
  • Sockeye salmon (also known as red salmon)
  • Coho salmon (also known as silver salmon)
  • Pink salmon (also known as humpback salmon)
  • Chum salmon (also known as dog salmon)

These salmon types are classified based on their spawning habitat and appearance. For example, sockeye salmon has bright red meat and gets its name from its bright red spawning coloration. Chum salmon has lighter flesh and gets its name from the chumming behavior during spawning.

The most prized and expensive salmon is typically king salmon, given its large size and high oil content. However, all wild-caught Pacific salmon types tend to be highly nutritious and delicious.

Salmon Cuts

When it comes to cuts of salmon, there are several different options:


The fillet is the meaty sides of the salmon with the skin, head, tail, and bones removed. Salmon fillets are the most common cut sold at grocery stores and fish counters. They can be purchased with the skin on or off. With wild-caught salmon, the pin bones may or may not be removed from the fillet. Pin bones are the small soft bones that run down the center of the fillet.


A salmon steak is a thick cross-section cut from the fish. It contains part of the backbone and may have some pin bones. Salmon steaks often have the skin left on. They have a nice presentation when served and hold up well to grilling and pan-searing.


Salmon portions are cross-section cuts from the mid-section of the fish. They are usually 4-6 ounces in size. Portions may contain some bones and skin may be left on or off. This cut is convenient for serving one person.


Salmon heads are sometimes sold, often frozen. They contain the cheeks that are popular in Japanese cuisine. The head may be cooked and used to make stock.


The collar is the fleshy fatty area around the head of the salmon. When separated from the head, it makes a rich and tender cut of meat.


The belly is the underside of the fish and contains the fattiest part of the salmon. It is highly prized in Japanese cuisine where it is called toro.


Salmon tails may be left on larger cuts or sold separately. They contain little meat but make for a dramatic presentation.

Salmon Cut Description
Fillet Sides of the fish with skin, bones, head, tail removed
Steak Thick cross-section with backbone, may contain bones and skin
Portion 4-6 ounce cross-section from the mid-section, may contain bones
Head Head of the fish containing the cheeks
Collar Flesh around the head
Belly Fatty underside of the fish
Tails Tail end contains little meat


Salmon can also be purchased ground, like ground beef. The entire fish is finely chopped into a minced consistency with no bones. Ground salmon is available fresh or frozen. It’s a versatile option that makes an easy, quick protein addition to meals.

Sushi Salmon Cuts

When eating salmon sushi, you may see some unique Japanese salmon cuts:


Sake refers to salmon in general. It can be any cut of raw salmon served in sushi.


Sashimi refers to sliced raw fish, commonly salmon. Slices are cut from the fillet.


Chutoro comes from the fatty mid-section of the fillet near the belly. It has a richer taste than regular salmon sashimi.


Otoro refers to the fattiest slices of salmon from the belly. It melts in your mouth and is considered a delicacy.

Smoked Salmon Cuts

Smoked salmon also features some unique cuts:

Nova Lox

Nova lox refers to smoked salmon, usually cured in a brine. It has a firm, dense texture. Nova means “new” in Russian, referring to the Jewish immigrants who popularized this dish in the early 20th century.


Lox specifically refers to brined salmon that is cured but not smoked. Traditional Jewish delis often sell lox.


Gravlax is salmon that is cured by burying it in salt, sugar, and dill rather than smoking it. It has a similar texture to lox but is less salty.


Kippered refers to salmon that is split down the backbone, brined, and heavily smoked. Kippered salmon has a strong smoked flavor and is commonly used in British breakfasts.

How to Buy Salmon Cuts

When purchasing salmon, here are some tips for picking the best cuts:

  • Look for firm, glistening fillets without brown or dried areas.
  • Bright red or orange-red color is ideal, which indicates high astaxanthin content.
  • Smell the fish – it should not smell fishy or ammonia-like.
  • If buying whole fish, the eyes should be clear and shiny.
  • For steaks and fillets, inspect the cut surface – it should be moist and clean-cut.
  • Fresh salmon has firm, elastic flesh that springs back when pressed gently.

It’s also important to pay attention to how the salmon is labeled at the seafood counter or fish market:

  • Wild-caught indicates it was caught in the ocean.
  • Farmed means it was raised in pens.
  • Atlantic refers to Salmo salar species.
  • Pacific refers to North Pacific species like sockeye, coho, and king.
  • Chinook, sockeye, coho, etc refers to the specific salmon species.

Both wild-caught and responsibly-farmed salmon can offer high quality and nutrition. Wild Pacific salmon like sockeye tend to be leaner with a stronger, more fish-like flavor. Farmed Atlantic salmon usually has more intramuscular fat, giving it a buttery texture.

How to Store Salmon

Properly storing salmon is important for preserving freshness and reducing waste. Here are some salmon storage tips:

  • When buying fresh salmon, use within 2 days. Consume smoked salmon within 3-5 days.
  • Keep fresh salmon on ice until ready to use.
  • Store salmon in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually the bottom shelf or in the meat compartment.
  • Place salmon in a shallow pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap or foil to prevent drying out.
  • Don’t rinse until ready to use to prevent premature spoilage.
  • Freeze extra fresh salmon if not using within 2 days. Portion into 4-6 ounce fillets and freeze in an airtight container or bag.
  • Freeze smoked salmon in original packaging or wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
  • Salmon can be kept frozen for 2-3 months before deterioration of flavor and texture.
  • Defrost salmon overnight in the fridge. Avoid defrosting at room temperature.

How to Cook Salmon Cuts

Salmon is versatile fish that can be prepared in many ways. Here are some popular cooking methods for different salmon cuts:


Baking brings out salmon’s rich, buttery flavor. It works well with fillets, portions, steaks, or whole sides of fish. Brush with oil or melted butter, season, and bake at 400°F for 10-15 minutes until opaque and flakes easily.


Pan-searing gives a nice crust while keeping the interior moist. Use cuts like fillets, steaks, or portions. Heat oil in a skillet, season the salmon, and cook over high heat 3-5 minutes per side.


Grilling adds great charred flavor. Steak cuts work best to avoid sticking. Oil the grates, season salmon, and grill over high heat for 2-5 minutes per side based on thickness.


Poaching gently cooks the salmon in simmering liquid like water, broth, or wine. Use a whole side, fillet portions, or steak cuts. Add seasoned liquid to a pan, bring to a simmer, add salmon, cover and cook 6-10 minutes.


Broiling heats fish from above at high temp. Position fillet or steak portions 3-4 inches under heat and broil 8-12 minutes until browned and cooked through, flipping halfway.


Sauté smaller salmon cuts over high heat to quickly cook and add flavor. Fillets, portions, or steaks work well. Use oil or butter in a pan, season salmon, cook 1-2 minutes per side just until opaque.


Smoking infuses natural smoke flavor and gently cooks the fish. Whole sides, large fillets, and steaks can be hot or cold smoked. Use cured, salt-brined salmon for authentic lox, nova, and kippered textures.


Knowing how to identify the various cuts of salmon makes it easier to purchase the type you need and determine the best cooking methods. The popular options at the fish counter include whole fish, fillets, steaks, and portions. For sushi, look for sashimi or otoro cuts. Smoked salmon is available as nova lox, kippered, and gravlax cured varieties. Store salmon properly for freshness and use within 2 days or freeze. Salmon’s versatility makes it perfect for baking, grilling, searing, poaching, broiling, and more. With a wide range of cuts and preparations, it’s easy to enjoy salmon’s delicious flavor and nutrition in your cooking.