Trending Tinned Fish Is Something Old That Is New Again

I have always loved conservas or tinned fish. Spain and Portugal have a long tradition of conservas which are carefully preserved seafood and shellfish cooked and packed into tins in a method that conserves the seafood when they are at their peak freshness.

In Spain and Portugal, it is common to eat these tinned fish conservas in a bar as tapas, a.k.a. snacks with drinks. Over the past five years or so, I have noticed that conservas served in their tins have started to show up on restaurant menus in restaurants—often from chefs who fell in love with the tradition when they traveled abroad.

Fans of the restaurant Prune (in NYC) will remember owner-chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s bar snack of tinned sardines and crispy Triscuit crackers that was on her menu when she opened her restaurant in 1999.

Hamilton was ahead of her time here in America, but the essence of her snack is my favorite thing about eating tinned fish. It is simple, satisfying and refreshingly unapologetic. The fact that she served it proudly at her restaurant and refused to “chef” it up, serving it the way you would eat it at home, or on a picnic, was bold, especially in 1999 when dining in Manhattan was more formal than it is today. Her sardine snack is served with a dollop of Dijon mustard and small cornichon pickles—and my favorite part—a sprig of parsley to freshen your breath.

Before I ever bought the tins to eat, I was drawn to them because they look so cool. I have a can of tuna that I bought in the South of France that I can’t bring myself to open because the tin looks so great and as soon as you open the tin you have to throw it away.

That is what first attracted me to the American-owned Fishwife brand of tinned fish. Besides having a great name, Fishwife has colorful, eye-stopping illustrated, whimsical packages. If I owned a gourmet food store, I would put these in the window to attract customers. The packages compel you to take a second look. And, as a bonus, the tins are packed in the colorful boxes so you can open the tins, eat the fish and keep the box as a souvenir.

Fishwife was co-founded by CEO Becca Millstein during the pandemic. Becca and her roommate saw a hole in the USA market for high-quality tinned fish and created the “woman-founded and led food company to make ethically-sourced, premium, and delicious tinned seafood a staple in every cupboard. We source from responsibly managed fisheries and aquaculture farms to bring the vibrance of conservas culture to the North American table,” explains Millstein.

And, the fish inside the tins does not disappoint. There are four different smoked fish options and as someone who smokes fish and then makes a dip out of it, this is a timesaver. I can use the Fishwife Smoked Salmon and make my dip and save myself the time of smoking the fish. A delicate smoked trout, a heartier smoked mackerel and a crowd-pleasing smoked tuna round out the traditional offerings.

New to the line are the hand-packed sardines from Galicia, Spain, that are packed in single-origin EVOO and preserved lemons or hot pepper. And these are my choice for a Gabrielle Hamilton-style sardine snack. If you need a gift for a tinned fish lover, these special sardines and the new stainless-steel Tinned Fish Tongs would be a great choice. The tongs were made in collaboration with Gestura, a San Francisco design firm who partners with artisan manufacturers in Japan to create functional and elegant kitchen tools.

And, if you are looking to try an assortment of tinned fish, the website that celebrates all things from Spain, La Tienda, has a three-month Conservas Club that would make a great gift for yourself or any fish lover in your life.

Canned Sardines with Triscuits, Dijon Mustard, and Cornichons

Adapted from the cookbook, Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton

1 can sardines in oil

1 dollop Dijon mustard

small handful cornichons

small handful Triscuit or Triscuit Thins crackers

1 or more sprigs parsley

Carefully open the tin of sardines and set out the accompaniments.

Leave the sardines in the can, or stack the sardines on the plate the same way they looked in the can—more or less. Don’t crisscross or zigzag or otherwise make “restauranty.”

Eat them with the mustard, cornichons and Triscuits, or however you like them. They are also very good with crusty bread. When you are done, eat the parsley. Commit to the full stem of parsley, not just the leaf. Chewing the stems freshens the breath.

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