How to Serve Tinned Seafood, the Perfect Party Food

Serve tinned mackerel, sardines, squid and cockles with all the proper accoutrements.

Saltie Girl
Photo: Courtesy of Saltie Girl

Eating seafood out of cans is one of the hottest new dining trends, and we couldn't be more thrilled. Of course, people have been preserving seafood, fish, vegetables and meats in tins for centuries, but over the past few years, chefs and consumers have shown a renewed interest in the wonders of tinned seafood.

While the presentation of, say, a tin of oily cockles may not seem like the most appealing snack at the party, there are all sorts of ways to dress up these precious goods, often imported from Spain, Portugal and Iceland and available at specialty stores. We chatted with Kyle McClelland, the seafood-obsessed chef at Boston's Saltie Girl who has roughly 60 tins on his menu, about how to serve conserva at home.

Use charcuterie boards as your inspiration

One of McClelland's favorite ways to serve the tins assembled on a sort of "seafood charcuterie" board. Most tinned fish and seafood goes excellently with slices of toasted bread, butter, flavored salts and any savory-sweet jam. McClelland, for example, makes a piquillo pepper jam. Sprinkle fresh parsley over everything — it brightens up the flavors.

The chef recommends using the best ingredients you can find, since the board is so minimalist and every ingredient should have an impact. At Saltie Girl, he pairs the toasted bread and tins with spectacularly creamy handmade butter from Vermont. (Smoked salts are a crowd-pleaser, too.)

The tins are so flavorful they don't need to be paired with too much. "You get garlic in some of them, and you get these gorgeous little puquillo peppers," he says. "They're flavored and quite wonderful."

Start with mackerel

If you're new to canned seafood, consider starting with mackerel or tuna belly, which McClelland says make wonderful introductions.

"Sometimes people think mackerel is fishy or oily, but there's not a single tin that's fishy," he says. "We try to sell people on the tuna belly, too. Sardines can be a little overwhelming at first."

Saltie Girl
Tiffany Lopinski Boston Foodies

Cook with them

If you're intimidated by eating briny seafood straight out of the tin, you can use them in all sorts of recipes, the simplest being pasta. (Just mix the goods into pretty much any sauce.)

"Cockles, baby clams and mussels are really good to cook with," he says. "Tuna bellies are really good to cook with and are really delicious in sandwiches and salads. With baby eels, we heat them up in a spicy tomato red pepper sauce."

You can also throw everything together into a cioppino to make the stew extra flavorful; cockles are the "easiest" to just add into everything, McClelland says.

Torch them

Some tins lend themselves to a quick torching, for a wonderfully smoky brûlée effect. "We serve these fried white anchovies that are packed with caramelized onions," he says. "We warm it up in the overn, and then when it comes out, we torch the top like it's a casserole."

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