Food from a can is perhaps not traditionally considered most people’s idea of gourmet food. However, this is changing across the globe as more consumers get wise to the virtues of fish in a tin - first off there’s the flavor imparted by preservation, but the practice also enables year-round and global consumption of prime fish that would otherwise be hard to come by. In Spain, and neighboring Portugal, canned fish and shellfish spans many decades of modern culinary history, so they have it down to a fine art. Let’s explore Spain’s conservas!
Did you know that most canned seafood is usually caught fresh the day before? With minimum additives or intervention, the seafood is lightly steamed or fried before being canned, either in its own brine, in oil or using a natural pickle, such as escabeche. So canning actually captures the freshness of the product - you get all the flavor of Spain’s best catch, straight from the can.
On the Iberian Peninsula, canned seafood is a pantry essential, whether to serve as an aperitivo - in Barcelona, canned seafood served with vermouth is serious business - or to add as a flavorful topping to family recipes. So, what can we get out of the can?
Culinary fish favorites - canned sardines, anchovies and mackerel - are a household staple in Spain, packed with nutrients like Omega-3 and umami flavor. Add them to a cooked dish or just serve these conservas straight up with crusty bread. In the shellfish and mollusk department: cockles, mussels and clams, squid, cuttlefish and even octopus can be preserved for year-round use and frequently pop up on Spanish menus across the country.
Saving the best till last, bonito del norte is the prized pescado at a premium on the market. Off the northern shores of Spain, this white longfin tuna is individually line-caught in season. As the Basque country cannery Conservas Ortiz explains, “this age-old technique of selective fishing respects the environment and the seabed” while the tuna is preserved immediately to bring out texture and taste. This isn’t any ordinary can of tuna, you’ve only got to try it to know why!