Six Top-Tier Tinned Fish

Tinned fish has risen in popularity the past few years. 

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tinned fish

Tinned fish has risen in popularity the past few years. 

© Shutterstock

Many years ago on holiday in Italy's Adriatic coast, we stopped in the coastal spot of Senigallia to visit one of Michelin-starred chef Moreno Cedroni’s celebrated beachside restaurants. It turned out to be beach shack with a menu based on tinned, preserved fish. Initially we felt surprised and disappointed, yet the exceptional depth of flavour proved to be a revelation. 

Now tinned fish is having its global moment. Colourful, artfully retro cans of anchovies, sardines, and even exotic razor clams and chipirones are now on display in the smartest delis and making regular appearances on restaurant and wine bar menus. For eco-conscious eaters, rigorously sustainably caught or farmed tinned fish is an ethical choice. What’s more, it has nutritional benefits: oily fish, which makes up much tinned seafood, is packed with Omega-3, a nutrient that is key to cell health. Gourmet fish lovers grab your can opener!

Tinned fish are nutritional powerhouses

Tinned fish are nutritional powerhouses

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Anchovies

Anchovies can be sneaked into more recipes than you might care to admit. That mouthwatering umami taste comes from the glutamate developed in the salting process. During months of resting in salt, enzymes and good bacteria transform the fish into a salty, briny powerhouse.

Purists can enjoy the best anchovies simply draped on a plate with their olive oil, some pickled shallots and cold unsalted butter on good bread. Anchovies melted into butter or sizzling olive oil and garlic can elevate almost anything in your kitchen from scrambled eggs to pasta sauce and must be inserted into the skin of a shoulder of lamb before roasting.

All anchovies are not created equal. Avoid buying jars that have the anchovies jammed too tightly together as they will bruise. Testa anchovies from Sicily are fished in the spring, hand-salted and ‘cooked’ in a steam tunnel, a cooking method that keeps all nutrients intact and preserved only in organic extra virgin olive oil and cold-pressed sunflower oil. 

Ortiz and Olasagasti anchovies caught in the Spanish Cantabrian sea when they are in peak spring condition are superb with melt-in-the-mouth texture and a distinctive full flavour. Preferably serve straight out of the can with a glass of fino

Tinned anchovies 

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Sardines

Forget pilchards in tomato sauce, today’s tinned sardines are of a completely different order. Sardines are mostly wild, unlikely to be overfished. Some quality tins of sardines are even aged for more depth of flavour. As Mitch Tonks, a chef in the UK’s West Country, who recently launched his own Rockfish range of tinned British fish, says: ‘there is magic that happens in that tin’.

Keep a supply of ‘vintage’ sardines on stand-by for an impromptu apéro. Turn the tin occasionally to keep the olive oil evenly distributed. It’s the piscine version of laying down fine wine, worth doing only with the best tins containing sardines caught during winter and spring which have a particularly high oil content, and are specially cooked to retain maximum moisture and packed by hand in top-quality olive oil. The reward for waiting: ultra-tender fish whose bones have dissolved into the smooth flesh.

Sardines ‘a la antigua’ means the silvery skins are left on as per the Ortiz method. Ortiz sardines are prepared by hand, fried in extra virgin olive oil and tinned with olive oil and a little salt. Try lightly toasting slices of fresh, crusty bread, top with crushed tomatoes and garlic, and finally place a single sardine on top as a quick lunch snack or add fennel, red onions, raisins, capers and sardines into a pasta for pasta con le sarde. 

La Brújula sardinillas, small sardines fished in the plankton-rich waters off the coast of Galicia in northwest Spain, are also worth trying. The plump, mild sardines are hand prepared, gently steamed, then canned by hand with olive oil.

Catrineta smoked sardines have a beautiful deep smokey wood flavour. They are sourced from Galicia and prepared by hand using traditional artisanal methods and have covetable decorative tins to show off. Enjoy these sardines straight from the tin or grill and serve with a squeeze of lemon for a simple supper.

Sardine sandwiches

Fresh sandwiches with sardines

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Tuna

Ortiz's tuna are individually line caught with live bait or fly only when the tuna weigh no more than 30kg. This age-old technique of seasonal, selective fishing aims to protect the marine environment. The fillets are cut from the juiciest part of the bonito tuna, meaning they have a rich flavour and exquisite silky texture and tenderness.

Ortiz Ventresca de Bonito is the Lamborghini of canned tuna (with the price to match). Plump, flavour-packed belly of Albacore or white tuna that’s way too good for a mayo mix so prepare with care: use for a superior salade niçoise.

Tinned tuna is one of the most popular canned fish in the world

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Mussels

Banish thoughts of old-style chewy bites or a pot of moules mariniére with too many closed shells, try Galician mussels instead packed in a classic escabeche sauce, made with paprika, vinegar, oil, garlic and bay leaves. Serve them with crusty bread and olive oil or use them to make a seafood rice

Mussels

Mussels are a very versatile food

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Salt cod 

Salt cod in a tin wrapped in a paper outer, already in oil so no soaking necessary, just open and eat or use to make bacalhau (cod fritters), the quickest way to taste this speciality of Portugal and Spain. Naval have been making such specialty tinned fish products since the mid 19th century.

Salted cod is an important base ingredient in Portuguese cooking.

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Chipirones

Tiny squid stuffed with their own tentacles that come in a squid ink, tomato and onion spiced sauce. The Albo brand has been considered the best quality for many years. Eat cold with fresh, crisp vegetables and a dollop of garlic mayonnaise or heat and serve over pasta.

Tinned tiny squid (chipirones) 

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