If you’re a fan of salmon and trout, get to know Arctic Char―a mild but distinctively rich fish.
With fish, as in life, it never hurts to be attractive. Arctic char is dappled with pretty pale-pink to deep-red flesh. It’s
easy to mistake it for salmon, although its skin resembles that of a trout.
Tip: Arctic char can be substituted for salmon in many recipes and adapts well to a variety of cooking methods. (Leave the skin on during cooking―it slips off easily once cooked.)
A traditional Inuit food, Arctic char thrives in both the Arctic Ocean and freshwater sub-Arctic lakes and coastal waters.
While there is some wild fishing, most available in markets today is farmed inland in closed water systems that treat wastewater
to avoid pollution. Farm-raised char is available all year; wild versions hit their high season in late summer. Arctic char
generally costs a bit more than widely available farmed salmon but, depending on where you live, a little less than wild Pacific
salmon. It’s considered a “fatty fish”―the good kind, meaning it contains healthy omega-3s―and the firm flesh stands up to
almost any cooking method.
Check out our chart to the left for what eco-savvy choices to make when shopping.
Sustainable seafood is a hot topic. Several organizations have created guides to making seafood choices that not only safeguard
our oceans, waterways, and fisheries but also protect our own health. Farmed Arctic char has been deemed a “Best Choice” by
the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and is ranked “Eco-Best” by the Environmental Defense Fund, which recommends
it as an alternative to farmed salmon because it’s cultivated in an ecologically responsible manner.
For more information on Seafood Watch, visit mbayaq.org and download pocket-size seafood guides.
If you don’t have an ovenproof skillet, transfer seared fillets, skin side down, to an oiled baking sheet and bake as directed. Searing fish before roasting gives it a beautiful caramelized crust.
“I made this amazing dish for my family and reedily ate two servings,” Senior Editor Julia Rutland says. “With the chopping, it took a bit longer to prep than most weeknight meals―but was worth every knife stroke. Next time, I’ll cut up the peppers and onion the day before. (You can buy frozen sliced peppers, but don’t overcook them; they can get mushy.) The next morning I’ll cook the pepper mixture and then simply reheat it just before serving. I’ll make the balsamic syrup ahead too, and store it at room temperature; otherwise, it’s too cold to drizzle.”
“Arctic char is the perfect starter for learning to love salmon―it’s similar in color and texture, but the taste is much milder,” Julia says. “Any seasoning or cooking technique good for salmon works for char! As much as I loved this dish, I never expected my 5-year-old to devour most of my portion. The spices in the Tandoori Rub have an inherent sweetness that appeals to young palates.”
Tip: Grilling is an alternative method for cooking fillets in all of these recipes. Place fillets, skin side down, on clean, oiled grill grates. (To oil grates, use tongs to hold a small wad of paper towel, dip in oil, and spread on hot grates.) Cook in a covered grill over indirect medium-high heat (350˚ to 375˚), without turning, until fish flakes with a fork. Check for doneness after about 5 minutes.