“Tinned fish is such good stuff,” agrees chef and restaurateur Mitch Tonks, who launched his Rockfish tinned seafood range at the start of January. “We have the obligatory sardines and mackerel, as well as mussels and cuttlefish or squid in ink … I’m a bit of tinned fish fan.” And he’s not alone.
José Pizarro always has some sardines to hand: “Get sardinillas, the little ones – they’re the best.” The chef and restaurateur chops and uses them, alongside boiled eggs and capers, to fill empanadas. “I can’t get enough of these pastries. It’s a recipe my mum taught me, though she uses tinned tuna.” Alternatively, Tonks puts his sardines to work in a Reuben-style sandwich: “Mix creme fraiche, English mustard and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, spread it on rye bread [buttered on the outside], lay the sardines on top, add black pepper, red onion, sliced dill pickle, capers, sauerkraut and swiss cheese.” Top with another slice of rye buttered on the outside and fry until crisp.
You could also turn up the heat with a som tam, Tonks says: “Shred carrots, courgettes and/or green papaya, slice red onion, halve cherry tomatoes and put them all in a bowl with sliced hot fresh chilli. Make a dressing by combining a bashed garlic clove, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice, then toss it all together with coriander and mint. Deep-fry some tinned sardines and crumble them over the top to finish.”
If Ben has any tinned tuna knocking about, Tonks recommends stirring it through crispy potatoes spiced up with ’nduja,while tinned mackerel signals shawarma: “Shred cabbage, red onion and green chilli, then grate some garlic into yoghurt and mix.” Spread that on flatbread with some hummus, a little za’atar, lemon juice and mackerel, wrap it all up and job done.
“Anchovies are also essential,” says chef Angus Cowen, who with his partner Charlotte Dawe founded the East London Canning Co during lockdown. “They’ve got that umami you can’t get from anything else.” While anchovies have myriad uses, you’ll be hard pushed serve them better than simply on toast with “as much butter as you can handle”. Alternatively, “sweat them down with chopped rosemary and garlic to use as a base with chicken stock for a braise, be it lamb shoulder or rabbit”.
Cowen is also a great believer in tinned mussels: “We cook and snack on them all year round.” A real winner round his – and especially with his children – is an orzo dish for which he renders smoked bacon, then sweats leeks and garlic, plus a few fennel seeds, until soft. “Add a splash of cider, pop in some cooked pasta and a knob of butter, bring it all together, and the mussels go in right at the end.” If you’ve got some fancy mussels, don’t forget to add a bit of their liquor, too. Or, for a quick fix, use them as a toast topper. Tonks tosses his mussels (“we tin them in an escabeche, which is a light vinegar marinade”) with red onions, capers, shredded little gem and a bit of olive oil and vinegar. Eat on sourdough and spread the joy.