Our three taste-test winners

A beautiful fillet of flaky, savory hot-smoked salmon makes any Sunday brunch special. Judging a field of 12 Western artisan brands on both presentation and deliciousness, we named three “big fish” in a recent tasting.

All three picks eschew new fresh-pouch technology, which calls for refrigeration only after opening, in favor of the old-fashioned, cold-shipped, into-the-fridge route. We include our favorite serving suggestions ― if you can resist the urge to devour the fish right out of the package.

Cap’n Mike’s Holy Smoke

Why: Tender, moist, and intensely smoky, Mike’s is the perfect melt-in-your-mouth fish. “I could live on this,” one taster raved.

The back story: There really is a Cap’n Mike: His name’s Mike Hiebert, and he’s been fishing Northern California’s Bodega Bay for 20 years.

Best with: Pasta with lemon, mint, and sour cream.

Info: Alderwood Smoked Salmon, $29 per lb.; Cap’n Mike’s Holy Smoke (707/585-2000)

Gerard & Dominique Seafoods

Why: Because it comes with a delicate honey glaze that’s as different as it is delicious. This fish is “firm, salty, and a bit sweet ― just what it should be.”

The back story: When Seattle-area restaurateurs Dominique Place and Gerard Parrap couldn’t find a smoked salmon they liked, they started experimenting.

Best with: Scrambled eggs and chives.

Info: Northwest Style Bruce Gore Smoked Wild Coho Salmon, $63 for two 1-lb. packs; Gerard & Dominique Seafoods (800/858-0449)

Pacific Northwest Best Fish Co.

Why: Because it’s like smoked salmon candy. The caramelized coating makes this a “perfectly balanced mix of salt, smoked, and sweet.”

The back story: Dan Evans’s company, in Ridgefield, WA, has been refining its brown sugar and soy brine for the past five years.

Best with: A slice of cucumber, or nothing at all.

Info: Smoked King Salmon, $18 per lb.; Pacific Northwest Best Fish Co. (877/769-2378)

More ways with smoked salmon

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