The Canned Fish Chefs Love To Pair With Garlic Bread

When most people hear the words "canned fish," they likely think of grocery store tins of water-or-oil-packed tuna fish. Combined with mayonnaise and piled on white bread, the classic tuna sandwich has been an American lunchbox staple for decades. Tuna's popularity in America soared after World War I. The Minnesota Star Tribune calls the post-war years a "tuna revolution." Why? Since tuna fish is an economical and portable source of protein, U.S. soldiers were given canned tuna in rations throughout the conflict. When the war ended, the soldiers returned to America, bringing their love of tuna along with them.

Other countries like Spain and Portugal, however, have long dined on conservas: tinned mackerel, oysters, sardines, anchovies, and even octopus, that are seasoned or smoked, marinated in oil, and sold in hand-packed, flip-tab tins. With the prevalence of tuna in the U.S. market, other types of tinned fish have, until now, taken a backseat. But with an increased focus on sustainability and a newfound appreciation for global flavors, these small fish are making big leaps in the culinary world.

Sardines: small bites, big flavors

Specialty online retailer Caputo's likens the process of curing and hand-packing tinned fish to the care, dedication, and knowledge that go into making other artisan products like cured Italian meats. And with renowned chefs getting in on the action, these tiny pescatarian delights are going gourmet.

According to Food & Wine, Chef Greg Vernick of Philadelphia's Vernick Fish serves Spanish sardines on grilled sourdough bread with a mixture of garlic, tomato, chili, lemon zest, and salt. If fish on toast isn't your thing, Vernick also suggests using tinned fish in vinaigrettes, pasta sauces, and marinades. Some of the most beloved Italian restaurants in the world serve up simple Bagna Cauda, a warm, sumptuous dip for bread made with garlic and anchovies.

In France, Spain, and Portugal, canned fish is a popular, portable lunch option, frequently served with slices of crusty bread to soak up the seasoned oil. And while there's no shame in eating these delicacies straight out of the tin, some devotees (at least according to Thrillist) are getting creative with accompaniments like cheese, crackers, pickles, and even potato chips! Olives, capers, peppers, and spices — the possibilities are truly endless, and delicious.

Protect your wallet ... and your heart

Bold flavors, limitless recipe possibilities, a greater emphasis on sustainability, supporting small-batch artisan food-makers ... these are all great reasons to incorporate canned fish into your meals. But there are three more major benefits to selecting sardines.

First, these small fish are packed with protein and heart-healthy fats. As registered dietician Christina Manian told Well+Good: "Tinned salmon, tuna, mackerel, and the like are all great sources of omega-3s — vital for maintaining heart health and improved cognition." Second, with massive flavor concentrated into small portions, a little goes a long way. Adding just 2 or 3 tinned fish can lend salty, umami goodness to sauces, soups, dips, and dressings, making tinned fish a practical, money-saving ingredient.

Finally, per the USDA, "You can store commercially canned fish, such as tuna, for up to five years in the pantry; home canned fish, only one year." A long shelf life gives you plenty of time to taste and experiment in the kitchen. Nutritious, economical, and trending? It's no wonder these tiny delights have us ... hooked.