Cooking with canned seafood isn't a compromise—it's a shortcut to flavor.

By Antara Sinha
April 28, 2020
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Credit: © Eva Kolenko

When pickings at the fishmonger are looking sparse, you’re looking for a more sustainable seafood alternative, or you’re leaning on your pantry staples and canned goods a little heavier these days, canned seafood can be a tasty, simple, and flavor-packed ingredient to turn to. From subtly dialing up umami flavors in effortless pasta dishes, to being the star of the show in recipes like Crispy Octopus with Potatoes and Smoked Oyster Empanadas, both high-quality oil-packed specialty seafood and humble supermarket shelf staples are reliable, versatile, and delicious.

The best places to stock up: If your local supermarket doesn’t have the selection you’re searching for, online stores are a reliable source to turn to. La Tienda has a large selection of specialty canned seafood. Caputo’s and Tin Can Fish also have a wide array of quality canned seafood that ships nationwide. And if you’ve cooked through these recipes and are still hungry for more canned seafood cooking inspiration, Tin Can Magic by Jessica Dennison and The Tinned Fish Cookbook by Bart van Olphen have simple, tasty recipes that celebrate and elevate the humble canned fish from an overlooked back-of-the-pantry ingredient to one that deserves center stage.

A New Take on the Tuna Sandwich

All of the familiar flavors of a bahn mi pair beautifully with salty, flaky oil-packed tuna. The classic banh mi combo of jalapeno, mint, and lime juice add tang and brightness, while savory fish sauce ties it all together with an umami punch.

Get the Recipe: Tuna Banh Mi

Credit: Abby Hocking

An Unfussy Pantry Pasta

This simple twist on spaghetti aglio e olio is a textural delight with perfectly al dente pasta, a scattering of garlicky bread crumbs, and a deeply savory flavor thanks to plenty of anchovies. This crowd-pleasing dish veers nowhere near unpleasantly “fishy” territory. Instead, oil-packed anchovies dissolve completely into the sauce, adding a rich, umami quality to this quick-to-assemble dinner.

Credit: © Con Poulos

An Upgrade on Avo Toast

While you may be reluctant to make canned sardines take center stage on your lunch plate, an herby mayonnaise spread, zingy capers, and bright tomato salad topping mellow out the fish and let it shine without becoming overpowering. The key is quality oil-packed sardines and juicy tomatoes that soften the rye crisps up just a bit.

Credit: Abby Hocking

A Shortcut to a Spanish-Style Dinner

While octopus may be an intimidating ingredient, using high-quality canned octopus makes it simple and approachable. You can skip the braising and get straight to perfectly tender (not rubbery!) octopus for this quick, delicious dish. Simple ingredients—just a spritz of lemon juice, parsley, and paprika—let canned octopus shine. We recommend Ramon Pena brand canned octopus.

Get the Recipe: Crispy Octopus and Potatoes

Credit: Abby Hocking

Nearly-Instant Empanadas

Canned oysters are smoky, briny, and buttery in these three-ingredient empanadas that’ll make you a canned seafood convert—if you weren’t already. They’re delicious and buttery on their own, but serve with a dash of hot sauce for the perfect, vinergy hit of tang.

Get the Recipe: Smoked Oyster Empanadas

Credit: © Johnny Miller

The Fanciest Tuna Salad

This one-dish meal is anchored by pantry essentials, and produce you’ve likely already got on-hand. With crispy, briny capers, and garlicky chickpea puree, this dish is supremely versatile—feel free to swap canned tuna for canned salmon, sardines, or whatever canned fish you have on-hand.

Credit: Abby Hocking

The Crunchiest Salmon Cakes

Perfect to meal-prep for lunch through the week, or a quick weeknight dinner, these salmon cakes get beautifully crisp in the pan. Using pantry staples and some fresh lemon, the cakes come together quickly and get some bold spice from the chipotle in adobo. Don’t skip that spritz of citrus—it adds brightness and zest to the cakes.

Credit: © Eva Kolenko

Canned Tuna, Mexican Style

Ready in under 30 minutes, this dish combines olive-oil-packed tuna with spicy pickled jalapeños and carrots over crispy tostadas. To make it even speedier, store-bought tostadas work just as well if you’d like to skip frying up your own. A short ingredient list and bright pickles and herbs take canned tuna from drab to a fun and flavor-packed.

Get the Recipe: Tuna Escabeche Tostadas