November 01, 2006

A Taste of the Wild

Six varieties of wild Pacific salmon swim in the rivers of the Kamchatka Peninsula, many of which are still pristine. As salmon connoisseurs, the Russians have numerous names for these fish, which can make the terminology confusing for students of Russian. 

For instance, although the blanket term for “salmon” is лос≈ось, Pacific salmon actually belong to a separate genus, Oncorhynchus, and each species has its own popular name. These Pacific fish differ from the common Atlantic salmon, the сёмга, whose flesh the Russians have long prized (sixteenth-century accounts relate that Atlantic salmon was already being transported from the rivers of Karelia to the tables of the tsar). European Russians encounter the wild Pacific species less frequently, as most of the catch is commercially canned. 

Most prized is the чав≈ыча, the Chinook or king salmon, a large fish with truly succulent flesh. The кет≈а (chum) is more widespread than the king salmon, and its bright orange roe adorns many a zakuska table. (By contrast, the chum’s other English name of “dog salmon” reflects the low regard in which Americans hold this fish.) The горб≈уша, the pink or humpbacked salmon, accounts for a full 80 percent of the salmon catch on Kamchatka. Never-theless, fishermen would rather catch the н≈ерка, also known as the кр≈асная. This is sockeye salmon, distinguished by its intense red flesh and robust flavor. The к≈ижуч, by contrast, has brilliant silver scales, hence its English name of “silver salmon” or coho (it was once known in Russia as б≈елая р≈ыба). The final, and smallest, of the wild Pacific salmons is the сим≈а, known in English as “cherry salmon.”

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