Tinned sardines, anchovies, mussels and the like are delicious, quick and versatile.
All of us have some history with canned (tinned) seafood. Who can forget those inexpensive cans of domestic tuna that helped many of us through college or some low paying time of our lives.
When I was growing up in Colorado, my Grandmother insisted that I have a can of tuna or sardines with me when I went fishing or hunting: “survival food” she called it. Very simple food but in recent times tinned fish has become very hip in restaurants as well as with home cooks.
Originally “tinned” seafood was in glass jars probably owing its association to wine in bottles. Food preservation techniques date back to prehistoric times, when humans pickled, salted, and smoked their food to make it last longer. However, the 18th century saw the advent of efficient, effective methods of preservation.
Tinned seafood was one of the greatest inventions in food preservation and it came about in response to a wartime need since it requires no refrigeration. In 1795, the French army offered a 12,000-franc prize (an immense amount then) to anyone who could create a way to store food that could travel to the front without spoiling. In 1810, French chef Nicolas Appert came up with the technique of boiling and sealing in glass bottles. He wasn’t sure why this worked but it was explained later by Louis Pasteur who taught us that the combination of heat-based sterilization and airtight sealing keeps food inside free of spoiling microorganisms.
This is the same technique we do today with canning. (Appert did claim the prize btw). The move to using tins was patented by Englishman Peter Durand, which was a much more efficient container than glass and an industry was born.
Ground Zero now and for a long time has been the Mediterranean especially Spain and Portugal but its widespread including America, Scandinavia and South America especially Costa Rica, the combination of heat sterilization keeps fish inside free of microorganisms.
Not only are there all kinds of fish and shellfish available but, on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) they are packaged with the most inventive and beautiful labels. There are markets
there that offer only tinned fish. Definitely something to put on your culinary bucket list.
Probably the most important attribute of tinned fish is that it can provide a shelf life of up to five years. After you’ve opened it canned seafood, like any perishable food of course, should not be left at room temperature for prolonged periods of time. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and covered for up to three days without spoiling.
The popularity of tinned fish (known as conservas in Mediterranean countries) has actually been a culinary favorite for centuries. Producers there have been preserving the sea’s bounty for generations. Tinned sardines, anchovies, mussels and the like are delicious, quick and versatile. All you need to do is peel back that lid, assemble your “sea-cuterie” board and dive into the world of tinned fish. In the recipes that follow feel free to substitute any tinned fish that strikes your fancy.
CATALAN TOMATO TOAST
TONATTO: A DIFFERENT TUNA SALAD
SALT-CRUSTED POTATOES WITH SALSA VERDE
SARDINE AND PIQUILLO PEPPER TOASTS
PANZANELLA WITH ANCHOVY AND MINT
PASTA WITH SARDINES AND BREADCRUMBS
BEER BATTERED SARDINES
TUNA STUFFED EGGS WITH BOQUERONES
This article was published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 2023