Wednesday, May 17, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Salmon Taste Test

Seattle Times staff

Is wild Copper River king really so distinctive and special that it's worth paying upward of $20 a pound for? Seafood experts say only the customer can answer that. Mostly, it will depend on how a shopper plans to use the fish, and personal preferences for taste.

To see if the Copper River would stand out, we bought some fresh from Alaska on Monday and put it up against two other kings: a farm-raised fish from Canada and another wild salmon, from California. All fish were bought the same day at the same Larry's Market. The Copper River: $17.99 a pound; the Canadian farm, $6.99, and the California wild, $9.99. All were prepared in the same way (a little lemon, salt and pepper), at the same time in the same oven (450 degrees for 12 minutes per inch of thickness).

A dozen tasters sampled the fish "blind," rating each on a scale of 1 to 5 for appearance, taste and texture. While a few expressed strong preferences for the California wild or the Canadian raised, the Copper River was the clear favorite, piling up 148 points to the Californian's 100 and the Canadian's 87.

Consistently, evaluators remarked on the Copper River's "rich" and "deep" color, even when they preferred the taste or texture of the others.

Most described the taste of the farm-raised as "delicate," while a couple called it too "fishy." A few others applied the same description to the California wild. The Copper River most frequently was called "rich" and "fresh," and some firmly declared it the best for taste. Two dissenters, though, found it bland.

As for texture, our tasters were firm on the firmness of Copper River; again, praise was high: "Melts in the mouth!" "Meaty," "oily-moist," "marvelous chunks."

The California king, by contrast, was almost unanimously judged a little dry. Most found the farm-raised Canadian the softest; "almost mushy," said a couple.

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