What you see: The center of your salmon looks mushy.
What it is: Lots of things could be going on here, but as long as your fish isn’t smelly, you’re fine.
Eat or toss? Inspect, and assuming no off smells, cook and eat!
Can you eat a salmon fillet that looks mushy in the middle?
Imagine all the reasons why your own muscles might be soft and you’ll start to get a sense of what’s amiss in this perfectly edible raw salmon fillet.
First, there’s genetics. Maybe it’s simply a less muscular species. Then, let’s consider its lifestyle. This salmon was probably farmed, which means it didn’t do a lot of strenuous swimming, so it may not have built up its salmon muscles.
If, after the salmon was harvested, it was at the bottom of a heavy pile of other salmon, the pressure would have weakened its flesh. Similar story if it was frozen and then defrosted; its cell membranes could have weakened, making it less firm.
Naturally occurring enzymes or bacteria could also be causing some of the salmon to break down. Some bacteria on the fish’s surface won’t hurt and won’t cause food poisoning you as long as you cook the fish properly before eating it. But if the breakdown goes too far, you’ll notice that the fillet smells. It may also be slimy.
And while this mushiness could be a signal that salmon is older, or at least has been through a lot, as long as it smells normal and you cook it thoroughly, it doesn’t mean the salmon is more likely to make you sick than a firmer fillet.
Different salmon species and different living and handling conditions simply mean differences in taste and texture. And while purists may avoid salmon showing some mush, some people may not notice or be bothered by salmon with a little mush, especially after its cooked (confession: my grocery store salmon often has this look, and by the time it’s on my plate, I’ve entirely forgotten about it, and never notice anything amiss).
“It’s not dangerous,” says Brian Himelbloom, a seafood specialist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center in Alaska. “It just depends on people’s preferences.”
How do you know if you have “bad salmon”?
Seafood quickly develops an odor when it goes bad. As Harold McGee points out in “On Food and Cooking,” since fish, and the bacteria that inhabit their surfaces, are at home in cold water, the fridge doesn’t slow do much to slow decomposition, and room temperature really accelerates decay. Additionally, fish contains unsaturated fatty acids that don’t solidify at cold water temperatures; those fats break down faster than saturated fats, resulting in unpleasant aromas when exposed to oxygen. Finally, according to a report on microbial food spoilage from the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin, fish is a high-protein food with a lot of free amino acids, which microbes turn into stinky things like ammonia and sulfur compounds. Note that these issues mostly point to odors and not visual signs of spoilage.
All of this means that seafood typically has a shorter shelf life than meat from landlubbing animals. It’s also why it’s a good idea to either prepare your fish the day you purchase it or put it in the freezer and thaw it only when you’re about to cook it. Fresh salmon should have a mild scent (not, ironically, a “fishy” smell).
Seeing little dark spots on your salmon? They’re highly unlikely to be mold. More here.
- Brian Himelbloom, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
- Care and Handling of Salmon: The Key to Quality. John P. Doyle. Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 45. School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Harold McGee. p. 189.
- Microbial Food Spoilage — Losses and Control Strategies:mA Brief Review of the Literature. M. Ellin Doyle, Ph.D. Food Research Institute, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Don’t be turned off by just a little mushiness!
Updated May 4, 2023