A distant cousin of salmon and trout, char has a mild salmon-like flavor and a beautiful pink color—the result of its natural diet, which includes tiny crustaceans like pink shrimp. Arctic char takes well to virtually any cooking method, and it’s hard to overcook, since its fatty texture is very forgiving.
Caught in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, char was never threatened because it is a fast-reproducing fish that was largely ignored during the heyday of salmon. Now that overfishing and unsustainable farming practices have turned salmon into an eco-culinary mess, char is getting its share of attention.
If you can’t find it wild, farmed arctic char is a good alternative because it’s raised sustainably.
When buying fish fillets, examine the flesh, which should be moist and glistening and without any large gaps.
Dry-looking flesh is a sign of age. Fresh fish should not smell strong or fishy but should have a mild, fresh scent suggestive of the sea.
When buying skin-on fillets, look for intact skin and make sure the scales were properly removed. Most fish skin is edible and delicious, especially when cooked until crisp.
Artic char is easy to prepare and at its best when simply cooked, allowing its fresh, distinctive flavor to shine.
Like all fish, arctic char should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator and used soon after buying. To slow down spoilage, try this: Put whole fish or fillets in a large strainer set over a bowl. Pile ice high on top of the fish and refrigerate. The ice keeps the fish close to 32°F, and as it melts, the water continually rinses off bacteria and drains it into the bowl. Or put the fish in a plastic bag and set the bag on ice to maintain a temperature close to 33°F (spoilage occurs twice as fast at 40°F as it does at 32°).