Tinned Fish – it’s the latest food trend reaching the U.S. from the European continent. In this new Tin-to-Table movement, bars serving tinned, or canned fish, are becoming the new hipster hangout. Seattle has its JarrBar, serving half a dozen tinned fish plates from Spain. Boston has its recently opened Saltie Girl. Brut in Minneapolis, has tinned seafood available at the bar. And, Portland, Oregon, Bar Vivant offers cans of baby eels the size of oversized macaroni. It’s like stepping into a tapas bar in San Sebastian, in Spain’s Basque country. Maiden Lane, a New York City bar that opened in 2013, is said to have kicked off this new American interest in tinned seafood.
So what is the difference between tinned and canned fish? Well, it’s at least 5 dollars and apparently, a world of flavor. In Europe – particularly Spain and Portugal – canned, or tinned fish doesn’t have the same low brow connotation as here in the U.S. The nasty, gray canned tuna fish is nothing like say, a Minerva gourmet canned mackerel from Portugal. The U.S. canning industry has always been about thrift and industrialization – popping out a can of tuna for 99 cents. Europe has never shared that mindset – it’s always been about preserving fish at the peak of their season. The more of these restaurants that open in the U.S., the more we will see previously unavailable high quality tinned seafood from Europe.
In Portugal conservas restaurants – restaurants whose star ingredient comes from a tin can, are as popular as gourmet burger joints in the U.S. There are stores in Portugal that sell only tinned fish, and in a kaleidoscope of varieties other than tuna and salmon. Imagine, scallops, oysters, squid packaged in its own ink, and even urchin caviar.
In artisanal fish canning, the fish is cooked first and then put into the tin. This makes all the difference in flavor. In normal canning, fish is cooked after being packed in the can, which imparts a boiled fish taste. A well canned sardine will develop a wonderful umami flavor over the years, from the enzymes in the fish’s belly.
An industry of microcanneries, like microbreweries, has popped up in the U.S. with this trend. Microcanners in California and Washington, such as American Tuna and Ekone Oysters, are using the Spanish-style and making high-quality tinned seafood.
So, how to get this trend moving in the U.S.? Apparently the taste sells itself. Open a can of ventresca, or tuna belly, taste it on some crusty bread, and there’s no turning back. Gone are the days of mayo and Chicken of the Sea on white bread. The question arises –which innovative chef in Cincinnati will be the first to bring this trend to the Queen City?