Prized since ancient times, Japan’s increasing appetite for salmon has seen it become the largest importer of the most sought-after fish in the world. For centuries its chefs have found hundreds of delectable ways to incorporate its mouth-watering flavours into their dishes.

Today, no restaurant in Japan, or the world over, would be complete without salmon on the menu. But now a host of international and New Zealand restaurants are increasingly opting to serve only the crème de la crème of this seasonal swimmer in their eateries – Ōra King salmon.

Produced by Marlborough-based New Zealand King Salmon Co. Ltd, Ōra King is available exclusively to food service. Culinary experts throughout Europe, the US, China and Japan began importing the premium quality product last October. Back at home, Ōra King is steadily making its way into some of the country’s top Japanese restaurants.

Head chef and owner of Auckland’s award-winning Japanese restaurant Cocoro, Makoto Tokuyama, is just one first-class foodie who has chosen to serve Ōra King to his clientele and is highly impressed with the results the superior salmon has brought to his business.

When buying salmon, Tokuyama is fastidious regarding a salmon’s shape, the colour of its skin and flesh, the aroma, oil content and texture. It is also vital the salmon is bred in sea water. “Ōra King Salmon has all these covered perfectly,” says Tokuyama, who acquired his culinary skills at the world’s most famous Japanese restaurant, London’s Ubon by Nobu. “It has a very good texture, it is soft but not too soft, and it just melts in your mouth which is just beautiful.” He continues: “It also has great umami [a pleasant savoury taste]and very good oil content, but it does not smell ‘fishy’ which can be the case with too much oil. The colour is very good, almost a vivid orange, but the white oil content in the meat really shows up and contrasts in a very attractive way.”

Tokuyama’s praise is a testament to the two decades of work New Zealand King Salmon has done to produce the unique breed. Nurtured throughout their lifecycle in the cool, deep and peaceful waters of the Marlborough Sounds, Ōra King are renowned for their superior flavour, colour and texture. Amazingly each fish can be traced back to its selected bloodstock.

In addition, the salmon is selected with the utmost care with graders individually inspecting every fish twice to ensure it reaches the Ōra King standards. Company CEO, Grant Rosewarne, says he is delighted but not surprised Japanese culinary experts are opting to serve Ōra King. “Ōra King Salmon is to Japanese chefs what Wagyu is to beef,” he says. The company enjoys working closely with Tokuyama, who was invited to see first-hand the Ōra King Salmon farms in Marlborough. He was awestruck with the company’s impressive breeding, selection and harvesting techniques, and in particular the processing of the fish, which is based on the Japanese ‘ikejime’ technique.

“Briefly, ‘ikejime’ means the salmon is processed in a quick and humane way,” Tokuyama says. “There is no suffering for the fish, and therefore it feels no stress. This keeps its flesh fresh as if it was still swimming.” But Tokuyama says the real test of Ōra King is what his customers make of the product and so far the feedback has been fantastic. “We have a regular customer that comes for lunch almost once a week. He loves his sushi and sashimi. We’ve noticed he orders extra salmon nigiri sushi since we started using Ōra King Salmon,” says Tokuyama, who also created a special second-anniversary promotional dish using Ōra King which received “many compliments.” Soon Tokuyama will introduce a new degustation sushi and sashimi course which will showcase Ōra King Salmon.