Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon
At the height of summer grilling season, you may be looking for an alternative to salmon. For those lucky enough to easily find it locally, Arctic char is my grilled fish of choice.
Actually, it’s my cook-at-home-all-year-round fish of choice for three reasons:
- It is easy to cook and tastes great – it’s milder and creamier than salmon.
- Those who like salmon will likely also like Arctic char. Even those who, like me, don’t care for salmon might like char!
- It is far less expensive than wild-caught salmon (and you know farm-raised salmon is an eco no-no, right?)
I was stumped, recently, when a friend asked me what the difference was between Arctic char and salmon. While there was some conflicting (and largely old) information on the internet, I’ve gleaned a few key facts about Arctic char.
A member of the ‘salmonid’ family along with salmon and trout, char is a cold-water fish and nearly all of the US supply is farmed. However, the environmentally friendly method used to farm char is completely different than farmed salmon; indeed, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Seafood Selector gives char a “best” eco-rating and describes how char is sourced as follows:
- “This member of the salmon family is an environmentally friendly alternative to farmed salmon.
- Char are mostly raised in tanks and raceways onshore, unlike salmon which are generally raised in open netpens in coastal waters.
- Onshore systems discharge less pollution and are much less likely to let fish and parasites escape than netpens.”
As many likely know, the EDF cites Atlantic and farmed salmon as an eco-rating of WORST. If you are one of the many who avoid Atlantic or farmed salmon entirely and have a local source who carries Arctic char, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at both the taste and the price compared with wild salmon.
As for nutrition, I had a little difficulty with conflicting information: some websites claimed Arctic char is high in heart-healthy omega 3s but the EDF Seafood Selector does not give it the same high-rating in omega 3s as salmon. The best figure I came up with was to compare two articles on Dr. Andrew Weill’s site. About char, he says, “a 3.5-ounce serving gives you one gram of omega-3 fatty acids and 182 calories.” That is about HALF that of wild salmon, when compared with another quote from Dr. Weil’s site: “A 3-ounce serving of Alaskan salmon or herring contains about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, while 3 ounces of sardines has about 1.3 grams.” That said, I’ll take 1 gram of heart-heallty omega-3 with my protein over red meat any day.
As for taste, it happens that I far prefer char to salmon – though my husband likes both equally and finds them very similar. I agree with the broad description of mild flavor and delicate texture, and it tends to be less dense/chewy than salmon. Because of its high fat content (healthy fat!), it is easy to grill or bake without drying out – as long as you don’t over-cook it. I grill or bake it at 450 for about 12 minutes – see my Lo-Co Recipes page for a quick & easy recipe.
For more info on Arctic char, beyond the EDF and Dr. Weill’s sites, I found these resources most helpful (and likely most reliable):
- The very interesting and informative Artic char page on the Fish Choice website was the most comprehensive and included a great ‘infographic’ which is where the illustration above is from. I wish that site had Omega-3 information as everything else was so clearly well documented on this site. This was also the only site that was updated in the past year or two!
- The Arctic char page on both the Seafood Choices Alliance and the New England Aquarium sites explain how Arctic char live in the wild and how they are farmed.
- The Chef’s Resources site – which was new to me, but I will visit again as it was very useful – confirmed the rough amount of omega-3 (though it cited 1.3 grams for 3 oz of fish) and other useful background and how-to-cook information about Arctic char.
You can substitute Arctic char for any recipe that calls for salmon or trout. I’m fortunate my local fish market always carries char; if yours does too, throw some on the grill with a little olive-oil and herbs for a quick, delicious, heart-healthy meal.