Sardines from the Folks at Fishwife

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Fished off the Cornish coast, canned in Galicia on the northwest corner of Spain

Some of the tastiest tinned fish we’ve gotten in of late are coming from the folks at Fishwife! Founder Becca Millstein is the woman who’s leading the way, and she and the team there are doing some wonderful work! Writing in the New Consumer two years ago last week, Dan Frommer says, “Fishwife, a Los Angeles-based startup, is reinvigorating a grocery category one can at a time.” Everything about their fish—including these newly arrived from Spain sardines—is excellent. I’m in awe of the whole project, everything from the eating quality of the little fish, back to Becca’s values-based approach to business, to the beautiful illustrations on the package by designer Danny Miller.

wrote about Fishwife’s superfine anchovies earlier this year, and of late we started to get their beautiful sardines. Last week I mentioned that boundaries and allegiances to modern nation-states are far less obviously clear than the last few hundred years of socio-political history would lead us to believe. Here’s a positive and inspiring example of what’s possible. The sardines are carefully canned in Galicia in northern Spain, but they’re actually fished off the coast of Cornwall in British waters. Becca shares that “It’s the only Marine Stewardship Council sardine fishery in Europe. It took us a year and a half to figure out how to get certified sustainable sardines into Spanish-style tins!” That makes this a cross-Celtic cooperative venture since both Cornwall and Galicia have Celtic roots. All the fish are wild caught, at night, by Cornish fisherfolk with sustainability certifications during the season (mid-July to mid-February). They all work off of small boats, generally a captain and just one to two crew members which means that they all have their eyes focused closely on the quality of the fish. Rather than get caught up in a nationalist competition between England and Spain, all involved have focused on knowledge, craft, and collaboration in the belief that everyone (and the fishery) will benefit in the process. I’ll add too that, in the spirit of Fishwife, the majority of the workers in the plant are women whose skilled and speedy handwork is absolutely cause for what Rabbi Heschel called “radical amazement.”

Becca shares a bit more backstory:

We launched Spanish-style sardines with preserved lemon in 2021 as one of our first products, and while they were incredibly delicious, the fishery was not certified sustainable, so we decided to discontinue the product and take time to find a better-managed fishery to partner with. So, after we sold through the first batch, we took the sardines off our website and spent the next year and a half trying sardines from fisheries and canneries all over the world, looking for a certified sustainable sardine that matched the quality level of our original product. It took a lot of funky sardine tastings, but we finally emerged with these two gorgeous sardines that are as delicious as they are sustainable! Here’s a very short clip of me chatting with Tom Lambourn, one of the fishermen we work with in Cornwall. … Tom and his crew from the Lyonesse are the BEST and we are forever grateful for the work they do to sustainably fish our lovely ’dines!

Unusual for the tinned fish world where most items are packed in lower quality, lower cost olive oil, the Fishwife sardines are packed solely in extra virgin olive oil. The oil comes from a third-generation single farm in Galicia—the family has been producing olive oil since the mid-’50s. We have both varieties of the Fishwife sardines, with a small bit of chile pepper OR with a bit of lemon. Both are delicious, and in both cases, the flavor of the “seasoning” is quite gentle. It’s the flavor of the silvery sardines that comes through most clearly. Terrific on their own, for sandwiches, on pasta, or with rice.