The Steelhead ID Crisis

The Steelhead ID Crisis

What in Salmon Hill is a steelhead? I get that steelhead is a fish, but exactly what kind of fish is it? It looks like a trout, yes; but like a salmon too. It acts like a salmon unless its acting like a trout. Scientists proclaim it’s a trout but then ardently insist it is more closely related to a pacific salmon. A trout-lmon, a salmon-out, whatever! It’s clearly an identity crisis.

There is a reason that trout and salmon are so much alike. What a surprise, they are related. You know the drill, mothers’ nose, fathers’ tail and from there they make their own choices. The main thing is, they are all Salmonoids.

One branch of the family lives in rivers and stays in rivers all their lives, (the homebody). We call that fish a trout. Another goes off to live in the bigtime ocean (the explorer) and it doesn’t come back until the end of its life. We call that fish a salmon. The stainless colored STEELHEAD is born in the river as a trout and then goes to the ocean to live. It returns home to visit the river, sometimes even multiple years (what a good fishy). When it returns, it spawns. I think the steelhead was raised right. Brave-hearted enough to get out and explore the world, but thoughtful enough to come home often and bring the kids. How pleased its family must be.

Steelhead can be found anywhere between California and Alaska, but mostly between Oregon and British Columbia. They are sized more like a salmon, the largest on record is 55 pounds, but the average range is between 8 and 11 pounds.

Steelhead are “anadromous”, which means they are both fresh water and salt water fish. They are also “prolific spawners”. Multiple years they can return from the ocean to their home river and spawn. (Clearly this is the athletic arm of the family). To truly ice the competition, they even spawn at two different times of year, either summer or winter. That’s why we can get fresh wild steelhead in the winter when you can’t get fresh salmon. Okay that explains a lot.  No wonder you can find steelhead on the menu at Salty’s in the winter, it’s the closest thing to fresh salmon!

The flavor and texture of steelhead and salmon are deliciously similar. Steelhead, like salmon, is a saltwater fish and therefore develops a much cleaner salmon taste. It also becomes a fattier fish and therefore has larger amounts of the anti-inflammatory antioxidant, omega-three. The calories per ounce between the two are about the same as well.

So, let’s summarize here just to be clear. A salmon is a salmon, but it is never a steelhead. A steelhead is a trout unless it migrates to the saltwater, at which time it becomes a steelhead. When it becomes a steelhead, it is more like a salmon than a trout. There, you see it’s simple. I knew we could figure this out!?!

Now for further clarity, I highly recommend Chef Jeremy’s blog on steelhead trout. Oops, I meant steelhead salmon. Or did I?