Ora King: New Zealand’s King Salmon

Recently I talked about the wonderful Faroe Island salmon my wife got in a couple of local restaurants. Now let me tell you about the wonderful salmon I got on around the same time. TAMO at Boston’s Seaport Hotel served me a memorable piece of Ora King salmon from New Zealand. It was my first time experiencing farm-raised Pacific salmon and it was so good that it could easily pass for wild. I’ve only had king salmon (aka chinook, spring salmon) a few times so I’m no expert, but just looking at that magnificent piece of fish on my plate told me I was in for a treat before the first bite.

I had to know more, what makes Ora King salmon unique?

About Ora King Salmon

Ora King is the premium foodservice brand of New Zealand King Salmon, one of the five brands (3 for humans, 1 for pets, and 1 brand of fish bait) offered by this 30 year old vertically integrated, highly respected aquaculture company. Since its arrival in the US in 2012, Ora King salmon has set a very high standard for farm-raised. But the story runs deeper, that marvelous salmon on my plate was 20 years in the making.

How Ora King Salmon Are Raised

Through careful selective breeding, 8 generations and over 100 salmon families have been created by Ora King’s program, allowing for only the very best to reach their standard. The hatchery is fed by a pristine natural spring in Takaka and the smolts are then carefully transferred to Marlborough Sound. The swift currents within the Sound mimic, to an extent, the natural habitat of wild king salmon. Fast moving currents and a very small footprint in the Sound are just part of how world-class Ora King is produced with minimal environmental impact.

Ora King salmon are fed an extruded diet, rather than fish pellets, based upon the natural diet of king salmon. As the fish mature the protein to oil ratio in the diet is changed so the fish gets more oil similar to a wild king salmon. All of this care and attention leads to an impressive feed to conversion ratio of 1.7x. Ora King is harvesting 1kg of salmon for every 1.7kg of fish feed, which is incredible considering the very high standards they require to make the cut.

How Ora King Salmon Are Harvested

When the salmon reach 4kg, they are harvested humanely and as stress-free as possible. Once harvested each fish is examined and graded against a set of company standards and if it makes the grade, it gets a numbered gill tag to ensure full traceability from farm to plate.

How Does Ora King Salmon Taste?

One aspect of king salmon that makes it taste so great is the fat content and Ora King specializes in fish with rich marbled fat. The Ora King website states that their fatty fish draws comparison to Japanese Wagyu beef. I’ve never had real Wagyu (no, the Kobe beef sliders at the local gastropub don’t count) so I can’t compare. However the fat in Ora King salmon gives it a silky smooth texture, almost melting in your mouth.

What I also like is that  you can get a big thick piece, like the one I got at TAMO. That is usually one of my biggest gripes about farmed fish: the cuts are often too thin. That cheap farmed salmon that’s 50% skin and grey meat many associate with farmed fish is the furthest thing from Ora King. First off, the seared skin was crispy and not too thick and from there, the fillet was thick enough to get a nice fork-full every time.

This recent salmon spree is rare, I usually don’t eat much salmon. However when I do, I would rather pay a little more for something high in quality. Maybe it’s just me but I think king salmon should be more of a special treat than regular meal for most of us, they make up less than 1% of all wild salmon. But when you are in the mood for something a little extra special, it is good to know you can now get high quality farmed Ora King salmon regardless of season or location.

Great job Ora King, I’ll be looking for you on menus in the future.