If you eat around Spain and Portugal on a trip to Europe, you and your kitchen will learn much more about eating tinned fish than its place in the tuna salad sandwich. “Conservas,” as both the Spanish and Portuguese languages call them, appear on so many tables and in so many ways — as lunchtime centerpieces, on evening nibble platters, even in breakfast egg preparations.
So, in a manner, travel this summer to the Iberian Peninsula, even though you may not breach our own shores, by enjoying the enormous variety of tinned fish available stateside.
Peel open a tin of preserved tuna in olive oil and use chunks of it to top envelope-sized corn tortillas, dabbed with a soupcon of grainy mustard and a tart cornichon.
Mix into cottage cheese a tin of smoked trout or brined cockles or clams and make of the mix the inner layer to a sandwich using slices of hearty, springy-crumbed rye or levain bread, lightly toasted.
Spanish and Portuguese tinned mussels are commonly preserved in the tangy, vinegary sauce called escabeche. Drain a tin (but not completely) and toss such mussels as the Iberians do, with pasta, minced garlic, lemon zest and finely chopped mint or basil.
The Spanish make of tinned anchovies preserved in olive oil a sort of open-faced sandwich: thin-sliced dark bread topped with one anchovy and a dab of marmalade (made of Seville orange of course), the sweet-tart jam offsetting the pungent, salty fish.
If your summer grill is a-going, place some tinned squid on the grate, char it lightly on all sides, then add it to an already-made rice salad or even a risotto based in fish stock and short-grained rice (use the paella rice called bomba), with ample gratings of sharp Spanish cheese such as Manchego curado.
Brunch: vegetables (cabbage ribbons, carrot fingers, cubed potatoes, sweet red or yellow pepper strips, onion slices, mushroom caps) in escabeche, full-flavored tinned fish (mackerel, for example), lightly toasted and buttered semolina bread.
Make a potato salad using waxy spuds such as Yukon Gold (dressed in lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, crushed herbes de Provence, slivers of fresh garlic), then add a drained tin of preserved octopus pieces (cut up if large). Toss and let sit for half an hour to marry the flavors. Serve cool or at room temperature.
Vary the tinned tuna (always use such preserved in olive oil, never water) on a salade Niçoise: use canned salmon or tinned smoked trout. Or shell out for the best possible tinned tuna such as that labeled “bonito del Norte” from Iberia.
In the bowl of a food processor, make a very smooth-textured “hummus” of a 6-ounce block of feta cheese and 1 tablespoon of fruity extra virgin olive oil. Scrape that onto a plate and top with any tinned fish of your choice (drained, if necessary), strips of pimiento pepper (or other pickled or preserved sweet pepper), chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves and a sprinkle of Urfa or Aleppo dried pepper flakes To the side: the best crackers or flatbread.
One very nice side benefit to using tinned fish is that it commonly uses under-fished versus over-fished seafood. It is unfortunate that the most common over-fished fish, tuna, is also the most commonly available tinned fish. If buying tinned tuna, try to obtain that from pole-and-line, rather than long-line, tuna fishers. Examine the tin’s label for the words “pole and (or &) line.”
Also, because tinned fish is available year-long, outside of either hemisphere’s seasonal fishing times, buying and eating tinned fish rather than fresh-caught fish allows fish stocks to recover in their native oceans or seas.
I’ve made this Tinned Tuna Sauce for many a spring and summer, to serve atop any manner of sliced prepared or previously cooked then chilled meat: cold cuts, roasted pork loin, chicken tenders or piccata paillards, white meat schnitzel, even more fish itself such as cooled grilled swordfish or salmon filet.
It is the sauce for the famed Italian preparation of cool veal called vitello tonnato. But few of us any longer cook veal. A legion of substitutes for the baby beef awaits.
Tinned Tuna Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
1 5- to 7-ounce tin pole-and-line caught tuna in olive oil, drained5 anchovy filets in olive oil1 cup capers, packed in preferred, rinsed and squeezed2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice1 cup mayonnaise, homemade if possible. Freshly ground white pepper, to taste (optional)
Place all the ingredients except the mayonnaise in the bowl of a food processor and pulse and process until very smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
Scrape the contents of the processing bowl into a larger bowl and gently but thoroughly fold in the mayonnaise and optional black pepper. Check for salt seasoning level. (Additional salt may be unnecessary because the tinned fishes and capers, the latter though rinsed, may add sufficient salt.)