Tinned Fish at the Deli: Not Your Dad’s Tuna

Is tinned fish a pantry’s ultimate secret weapon? The Zingerman’s Deli specialty food staff thinks so.

Tinned FishThey’re here to make the case to doubters and tinned fish heads alike. Rich in protein, omega-3’s and full-flavored goodness, tinned seafood preserves the oceans best at the peak of flavor and quality. Tinned fish is not only a delicious, healthy choice, it’s also supremely sustainable, ultra portable and easy to store. 

From Spanish cockles to trout and lobster to sardines, the Deli’s selection is something to behold! 

We sat down with Connor Valone, retail supervisor at the Deli, to learn about his personal tinned fish journey and why he thinks these tinned treasures should be at the top of your shopping list. 

“I grew up with tuna fish salad made with “Chicken of the Sea” in water. As a kid I didn’t like it, it smelled bad, it was never my thing. I liked fish as a kid, but never thought quality stuff came out of a can. I always thought it was lowbrow, and that old men like my dad liked it. In reality, a lot of canned tuna is overfished, mass produced and maybe isn’t even what it says it is, and its packed in water, which decimates flavor. Not a great intro! 

Once I saw the variety and quality the Deli stocked, I started talking to my amazing coworkers who had a passion for it and they gave me an introduction. From there, it became my own personal project to explore what was available. I’d bring home a tin of fish to try something new as I could afford it. Now I eat it multiple times a week,” Connor said. 

Whether your exposure to tinned fish was like Connor’s, limited to your dad’s smelly tuna salad. Or maybe your interest was piqued when your roommate returned from Portugal with a wild look in their eye and a suitcase packed to the gills with conservas (Portugal and Spain’s elegant word for tinned fish). Either way, the Deli’s knowledgeable, approachable staff is excited to steer you on your journey exploring your new favorite pantry staple.

What was your first “wow” experience?

For many, entering into new taste terrains is marked with a pivotal “wow” experience. For Conner, a tin of cockles opened his mind to the diverse world of tinned fish. 

“My first truly mind blowing experience with tinned fish was cockles. I don’t know what brand or tin it was, but my first time eating cockles was my first eyes wide open feeling with tinned fish. I felt lucky to experience it – it was like being in the ocean with your mouth open. It was a true Zingerman’s experience: trying something that was so clean and interesting tasting, learning about where they came from and how they’re harvested.”

Where to start?

With so many tinned fish varieties available, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Connor recommends Ortiz bonito tuna as an excellent entry point into the world of conservas. 

“Silky, clean, so tender and delicious. Lots of folks have had basic tinned tuna, so Ortiz tuna is a great apples-to-apples comparison – you really can taste the difference.”

He also recommends beginners grab a tin of wild sardines with lemon from Spain’s Matiz.

“These are at a great price point, beat some of the other sardines, hint of lemon helps brighten up flavor – soften brininess for people adverse to people adverse to tinned fish.”

When it comes to recommending how guests can enjoy sardines, Connor recommends they eat it however they find it most appetizing, whether that’s on a slice of Bakehouse farm bread with a swipe of cultured butter or on a salad with fresh greens, seasonal vegetables and salty cheese.

“However they’re enjoyed, I always recommend one bite right out of the tin, by itself out of the tin, so you understand how it tastes without other flavors.”

Best “exotic” fish to try?

If you’re looking for a tasty tin that’s out of the ordinary, whether your basement is already equipped with a special shelf for aging tinned fish or you’re a curious eater, Connor has a few ideas for you to taste something new. 

“As a general rule, only eat tinned fish packed in oil. The one exception to that rule is if it’s packed in ink! We sell a few squid packed in ink. Trying something so silky and fully flavored is a real treat – it’s an adventure in itself. You can make a whole event around the fact that you’re going to eat a squid in its own ink! 

We also have a lovely tinned smoked herring at the Deli. For a lot of folks, it might bring back memories of their grandpa – they might think it’s too strongly flavored and put their nose up. But when we tasted it, my coworkers and I talked about it all day. Smoked, packed in oil but clean and silky and rich. It’s fully flavored, but not overpowering.”

Favorite ways to enjoy tinned fish?

Beyond straight out of a tin, how does one best enjoy tinned fish? The possibilities are limitless. In fact, we put together a whole post on some of our favorite ways to enjoy tinned fish! 

“Food and wine go hand in hand, a glass of wine with tinned fish dinner. Make it an event! Baguette, tinned, fish, wine. That’ll be what my whole summer is composed of.”

Intrigued? Visit the deli’s impressive selection of over four dozen varieties of tinned fish. From humble sardines to luxurious caviar, and from familiar tuna to exotic cockles, you’re sure to find something to start your own tinned fish adventure and to stock your pantry with.