ALMOST ALL of the smoked and cured salmon in this area is made from Pacific fish, although there is some Atlantic smoked salmon available. Atlantic salmon are generally long and narrow with pale meat and a fine grain. Pacific salmon, on the other hand, are larger, very thick and meaty with a coarse grain.

Salmon should be sliced as close to the time of serving as possible. However, you can store sliced salmon in the refrigerator if it is tightly wrapped, keeping in mind that freshness will diminish rapidly.

Freezing invariably harms the quality of salmon. Unfortunately it is rare to find cured or smoked salmon which has not been frozen some time during its processing, although not all producers admit it, according to Thad Pound of Kirkland Custom Cannery in Kirkland, Wash.

If you have bought too much to use at one time and must freeze some, careful thawing will diminish serious deterioration. Leave it in the refrigerator until it has completely defrosted.

The best slices of salmon come from the center section.

Smoked salmon is best eaten with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, perhaps a grinding of fresh black pepper and some thin black bread. Some aficionados will add minced onion, capers and oil.

Prepared salmon comes in several forms:

LOX, Pacific salmon - cured in a dry or brine salt before being shipped East. It is soaked by the wholesaler after it arrives. It is soft and exceptionally salty and a good foil for bagels and cream cheese or scrambled eggs. It can be soaked further at home to make it milder. The name comes from lachs , the German word for salmon, and the Scandinavian lax .

Belli or belly lox comes from the center section of the salmon, which is the "fattest and the tastiest" according to Ray Laby of Acme Fish Products in Brooklyn, N.Y. Lox wings are the chunks of the tail and other trimmed sections of the fish, sold some places at a considerable savings over sliced lox. Lox tidbits are the small, irregular pieces of flesh which result from slicing, also sold inexpensively.

KIPPERED - Lightly cured and hot-smoked salmon. This fish partially cooks while being smoked and is white because it's often made from light-colored King Salmon, and because of the bleaching effect of the heating process. Also called Baked Salmon.

NOVA(or Novie or Noyv) - Cured by cold-smoked method whereby the fish are exposed to lower temperatures (90 degrees or less) for a week to 10 days.Red salmon made from Pacific fish.

NOVA SCOTIA - Cold-smoked and cured salmon made from Atlantic fish; considered a higher quality product.

SMOKED SCOTTISH SALMON - Salmon caught and smoked in Scotland which is held in exceptionally high regard.

HARD-SMOKED SALMON - Lightly cured salmon which is heavily smoked with either a cold or a hot smoke.

GRAVLAX - A Scandinavian dish in which fresh salmon is dry-cured with a combination of coarse salt, pepper and fresh dill.

Here is where to find:

LOX

Georgetown Wine & Food Co. offers an extensive selection of prepared salmon from the West Coast, including belli lox at £11.99 per pound. Our tasting panel found it overwhelmingly salty, prompting one member to ask, "Where's the cream cheese?" All of the shop's salmon is hand-sliced.

Bradley Food and Beverage stocks a pre-sliced belli lox at £9.99 per pound which our tasters unanimously felt was too salty and fishy.

Old World Market sells a pre-sliced lox for £8.99 per pound that was oily and unacceptable, with a bitter aftertaste.

Katz is the only store we found that gives the buyer a choice of hand-or machine-sliced belli lox at L9.99 and £9.49 per pound respectively. Lox wings are £1.19 per pound; tidbits are £3.95 per pound.

NOVA

Georgetown Wine & Food Co. sells three kinds of nova, one prepared on the East Coast and two smoked on the West Coast. The East Coast nova, at £13.99 per pound, was judged "very good, with a light, slightly salty taste, character and good texture." The West Coast nova from Port Chatham, Wash., also sells for £13.99 per pound and was found "mild, good smoke flavor, clean-tasting." West Coast nova from Kirkland, Wash., is also available for £13.99 per pound.

Bradley Food and Beverage, £11.99 per pound; presliced. "Delicate, bland, slightly rubbery."

Katz, £1.99 for 3-ounce plastic package of Lascco Sliced Smoked Salmon(sold in the refrigerated section). "Innocuous, adequate."

NOVA SCOTIA

Cannon Sea Food Inc., £12.90 per pound. "mealy, fishy, poor taste." This store, by the way, is frank in bringing its salmon out of the freezer to slice to order on a machine. Lox trimmings are £3.25 per pound.

Katz also sells a true Nova Scotia smoked salmon, machine-sliced for £10.79 per pound and hand-sliced for £12 per pound.

SMOKED SALMON

Wagshal's Delicatessen, 4855 Massachusetts Ave. NW, undoubtedly has the most regal selection of smoked salmon available in the Washington area, with George Eghins in residence to treat it expertly. Wahshal's sells two kinds of Canadian smoked salmon, at £14 and £18 per pound, as well as Gaspar (Nova Scotia) salmon at £18 per pound; Scottish salmon at £35 per pound, and the rare but highly prized Icelandic salmon, which sells for £39 per pound. Wagshal's does not sell tidbits or trimmings at cheaper prices.

On the day we visited, Eghins had arrived early in the morning to hand-slice eight whole Icelandic salmon for air shipment to Texas for a party.

We tasted two others of Wagshal's smoked salmon:

Irish - £35 per pound. "Strong, salty, dry, unpleasant texture."

Danish - £18 per pound. "Subtle, reminiscent of sashimi in texture."

KIPPERED SALMON

Parkway Delicatessen and Restaurant sells kippered salmon from Pennsylvania for £7.25 per pound. "Moist, bland, but nice."

Katz sells the same salmon for £5.69 per pound, as well as New York kippered salmon for £5.69 per pound.

Georgetown Wind & Food Co. brings in kippered salmon from Washington State that sells for £8.99 per pound and comes with or without a cherry-red dye coating the outside. Both are dry and smoky, reminding one taster of tuna. There is also a baked salmon from New York at this store for £6.99 per pound that was subtle and good.

Posins' sells a kippered salmon from New York for £6.18 per pound.

SALMON ODDITIES

Georgetown Wine & Food Co. had the largest selection of offbeat salmon products, mostly from the Pacific Northwest. The hard-smoked salmon from Forks, Washington, costs £8.99 per pound and tasted "lovely, with a distinctive hickory flavor, tender, almost nut-like." Many panelists favored this over all of the kippered and baked salmons. Smoked small baby lake salmon (sometimes called a salmon trout; five fish add up to only one pound) from Idaho costs £10.99 per pound and was found "quite good, with a delicate, developed flavor."

Squaw candy is the name for smoked and dried strips of salmon taken from the fillets of the fish. It comes in one-inch wide by two-to three-foot lenghts; it costs £9.99 per pound (it would take a lot of squaw candy to make up one pound). Salmon jerky is the same product except the meat from which it is made comes from the backbone of the fish; the price is the same. Our tasters found these a treat (and a chewing exercise), favoring the salmon jerky for its bolder smoky flavor. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption