Recipe: Smoky keta salmon and tomato chowder

A seasonal salmon primer Keta salmon (also called chum)
This March 16, 2015 photo shows keta salmon in Concord, NH. AP Photo/Matthew Mead

Keta salmon, also called chum, has pale orange, red or pink flesh and a pronounced flavour. These characteristics make keta a favourite for drying and smoking, as well as for chowders and curries. Chum has a lower oil content than other wild salmon and a meaty, firm texture. Keta roe also is used in sushi.

READ MORE: Primer – 5 varieties of wild Alaskan salmon – king, sockeye, coho, keta and pink

“You need to tone down the more distinctive fish flavour and enhance the richness,” says Laura Cole, owner and executive chef at 229 Parks in Alaska’s Denali National Park, who suggests dairy- or coconut-milk based dishes. Many people also dehydrate keta, she says, and grind it with sugar or salt to make rubs and flavourings. Keta also is a favourite for weight- and health-conscious people, she says. “It has so many fewer calories than the king salmon or coho. It has thinner flesh, lots of protein and lower fat.”

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Recommended preparations: Low cooking temperatures and taming elements such as milk or smoke are recommended for this lean fish. Soups, chowders and curries are ideal.

Often found: Smoked; dehydrated; as jerky; in chowders, soups and curries; sushi (ikura); and as steaks, filets and whole at supermarkets.

Availability: Year round frozen; fresh, June through September.


Always check salmon for bones. To do this, gently rub your hand over the flesh, going against the grain. The bones should be in a line running the length of the fish. Use tweezers or needle pliers to remove.

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 6

  • 2 cups water
  • 6 bags oolong tea
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon aleppo pepper flakes (or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
  • 3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
  • 1 pound keta salmon, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Bring the water to a simmer, then add the tea bags and remove from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Remove the tea bags and squeeze to extract any liquid.

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Meanwhile, in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high, cook the bacon until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, leaving the fat in the pot. Add the onion, paprika, cumin and pepper flakes, then cook until the onion is tender and beginning to brown, 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the potatoes, tomatoes and tea. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add the salmon and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through. Stir in the heavy cream and continue cooking just until heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with the crisp bacon crumbles.

Nutrition information per serving: 470 calories; 270 calories from fat (57 per cent of total calories); 30 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 105 mg cholesterol; 27 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 22 g protein; 660 mg sodium.

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