Friday nights around here are Fish and Chips Fridays. Nope, not crispy battered fish and golden french fries – I’m talking about canned fish and kettle cooked chips.
Are you familiar with conservas? It’s Spanish for “preserved” and it typically refers to canned fish and seafood. Not just any canned fish though – we’re talking about gorgeously glossy high quality seafood that’s sustainable, delicious, quick, and easy. Essentially, conservas is the charcuterie of the sea. Some people call it seacuterie, some people call it conservas, some people call it a tinned fish board. Really, it doesn’t matter what it’s called because it’s delicious.
Mike and I were first introduced to conservas at a Spanish tapas bar. They had an entire menu of canned seafood that they cracked open and served with Spanish potato chips, hot sauce, and a couple of other accoutrements. It was such a fun eating experience. The brininess of the the fish, the tart and spicy sauce, and the crunch of the potato chips all come together into the perfect flavor explosion. After our first time, we were hooked. Fish and chips Fridays (at home) was born.
Hundreds of years can’t be wrong. Spain and Portugal have a long, rich history of making and enjoying conservas. Now, canned fish is gaining popularity here in North America. There are loads of historical classic brands as well as new ones that are fresh and innovative. There’s bound to be a canned fish out there you like. Part of the fun of conservas is trying out the different varieties and comparing and contrasting.
Why tinned fish is popular
Tinned fish is delicious, that’s probably the number one reason. But that’s not why you’ve been seeing tins of fish pop up at specialty stores and in your social feeds. There are so many reasons, but these particular ones are why I think conservas is here to stay.
Because it’s canned, you can purchase conservas online making it accessible to almost everyone. Even if you don’t live anywhere near the ocean, you can have a briny seafood adventure. Canning is the preferred method of preserving seafood in Spain and Portugal simply because it conserves the seafood at its peak, right when it’s caught.. Plus, canned fish isn’t exclusive to Spain and Portugal. Almost all countries preserve fish and seafood via canning, making it a fun way to travel without leaving home. Once you get into specially canned seafood, there’s no looking back.
Personal and customizable
A conservas party is the epitome of customizable. One tin, five tins, olives or no olives, hot sauce or no hot sauce, crusty bread, crackers, kettle cooked chips; the list of what you can serve with conservas goes on and on. It’s infinite combinations. You can make multiple unique perfect bites making this a perfect snack-y meal.
Cracking open tins of conservas and a bottle of wine (or fancy beverage) implores you to slow down and enjoy. Because you’re making tiny bites instead of eating a prepared dish, you’re considering arrangements and what tastes good with what. You’re being creative and thinking about your food instead of just eating it. It’s also a little like taking a short vacation to where your canned fish is from. Are you on the shores of Spain, near the Sea of Japan, or just off the Atlantic coast? Physically, you’re at home, but you’re eating seafood from an entirely other place. (And time, if you want to get existential about it.)
Opening up cans of conservas and revealing perfect layers of filets or mussels all nestled in oil is incredibly pretty. Some cans come flecked with spices, some are simple yet satisfying in their geometry. Tins of seafood are rustic, romantic, and gorgeous. Add chips, crusty bread, crackers, olives, and little forks all on a wooden board or plate and it’s the easiest, most photogenic thing you’ve thrown together in less than 2 minutes. So much quicker than a charcuterie or cheese board.
The conservas world is design strong. There are fancy tins, labels, and wrappings all covered in art or branding. True canned fish lovers collect the labels and save them. From colorful to retro, the cans, labels, jars, and everything to do with conservas is incredible. I love the typography, the illustrations, the shapes and colors of the cans. Call me a design nerd but I get the heavy breathing when I see a bunch of tiny tins with eye catching design.
Let’s face it, date nights are getting more and more expensive. Ditto with hosting parties. Conservas is affordable (even if you buy the pricey cans) compared to going out for a night on the town. Even if you spend $10-15 per tin of seafood, it’s still not going to add up to what you’d pay at a restaurant these days. Plus, staying in is the new going out, amirite?
How to have a canned fish date night
- Choose cans of fish. You get extra flex if you have a canned fish library with many tins of fish. You can even start your date night at a cute grocery store. Just be sure to scope out their conservas selection first before bringing your date.
- Open cans of fish.
- Uncork your wine.
- Open bag of kettle cooked chips.
- Set out olives, nuts, fruit, herbs, and hot sauce.
- Boom, done.
Don’t forget the mood lighting and music. And if you want a little bit more direction and extra tips, check out the section before the recipe at the bottom for suggestions 🙂
Where to buy canned fish
You can get regular canned fish and seafood at your supermarket but if you’re looking for something that’s a little more specialty, check out Whole Foods, World Market, or online. Even Trader Joe’s sells decent canned sea bream, smoked sardines, trout, and mackerel. You can do a high-low comparison and see which fish you like better. Sometimes Mike and I will buy the same type fish from different brands just to see how different they are in quality and flavor.
A few of our favorite brands in no particular order
Patagonia Provisions – sustainable fishing with delicious flavors, Patagonia knocks it out of the part with their conservas. We’ve never had a bad tin from them, all of them are amazing.
Jose Gourmet – a modern Portuguese brand, is immediately recognizable from the boxes that feature playful illustrations. They have a large variety of seafood and flavors and all are high quality and absolutely addictive.
Matiz – Spain is well known for conservas and Matiz is one of the OGs. They have interesting seafood like white anchovies, octopus, and cockles. Their classic sardines are firm, plump, and a good standard to keep in your pantry.
Ortiz – the classic red, yellow, and blue can is a cult favorite. They’ve been canning since 1891 and people LOVE their tuna. They have several different lines with different types of fish. We especially like cooking with the anchovies that come in a jar.
Nuri by Conservas Pinhais – This is a classic Portuguese conservas company. Nuri has been around since 1920 and the sardines are hand packed and hand labeled. They come in various flavors: sardines in tomato sauce, mackerel fillets in olive oil, sardines in spicy olive oil, and more.
Pollastrini di Anzio – this Italian brand has been packing Mediterranean sardines since 1889 and their wild caught sardines are some of the best. They come in a variety of flavors, all are delicious.
What kind of seafood comes in cans?
Anything seafood you can think of comes in a can.
This isn’t the tuna of your childhood. Preserved in high quality olive oil, conservas tuna is firm, fleshy, and delicious. You can find tuna belly, ones with piquillo peppers, sun dried tomatoes, even chili crisp! High quality canned tuna is the perfect fish to ease into with conservas because it’s familiar. Pro tip, the tuna flavored oil in the can is perfect for bread dipping.
Conservas salmon comes in large, firm chunks packed in oil. It’s amazing mixed into rice a la Tiktok salmon rice bowls and also on toasts. I like the smokiness and the flavor of Fly By Jing Smoked Salmon via Fishwife.
There’s a whole world of sardines out there. They come in a variety of sizes, whole with skin on or completely skinned, deboned, and filleted. Both are good. If you’re new to conservas, you probably want to go the filet route, but if you love fish, the ones with skin and bones is where it’s at. So much calcium and omega 3s.
One of our absolute favorite types of fish, canned or fresh. It’s milder than sardines or anchovies but packs big savory, umami punch. It has just the right amount of fat, much more than tuna, so if you’re convinced that canned fish is dry, mackerel is here to prove otherwise. If you ever have a chance, mackerel is very popular in Asia and the tinned mackerel from Japan (Ligo) is amazing with rice.
Ah, anchovies. They have such a reputation, bad and good. They’re the little fish that could. They add umami and salt to everything: pasta, toast, potatoes, steak, pizza, you name it, anchovies will jazz it up. If you’re an anchovy fan (who isn’t!?) the best way to enjoy their purity is on a crunchy kettle cooked chip (unsalted please) with a squeeze of lemon or dab of hot sauce. Pure flavor.
PS – If you’re an anchovy fan, grab the Ortiz jar, they come with a cute fork and are tender, meaty, smooth, and generally amazing.
PPS – get oil packed anchovies for eating, salt packed are usually for cooking.
PPPS – if you find oil packed anchovies too salty go for marinated white anchovies that are pickled in vinegar.
Soft and velvety with just a bit of bite, mussels conservas are plum, firm, and delicious. They come so many ways, smoked, as escabeche, or with simple herbs. Enjoy from the tin with chips, toss them with pasta, or make a quick homemade escabeche with fresh herbs, lemon, sweet paprika, and red or white wine vinegar.
Cockles & Clams
Steamed and preserved cockles and clams are tender, sweet, and full of seafood brine. You can add them to salad, use them to top off pasta, or make a quick ceviche-type dish with onions, cilantro, lime, and the canning brine.
Tender and rich canned squid is amazing alongside a starch: risotto, rice, pasta, potatoes, or bread. Some conservas squid is grilled before canning, which preserves the texture and flavor even more.
There are way too many to list out here: trout, octopus, lobster, razor clams, scallops, snow crab, essentially any seafood you can think of, it exists. You might have to do a deep internet dive or hop a plane over to Spain or Portugal if you’re looking for the harder to find seafood. It’s my dream to go on a conservas trip one day!
How many tins of conservas do you need?
For date night: Three is the perfect number. One tin per person plus one extra for fun. Three tins is more than enough for two people, especially with the accruements.
For a party: If you’re making a large tinned fish platter for a party, I would go for 5-6 tins for 10 people. It’s about 1/2 tin per person when you’re serving conservas as an appetizer.
What to serve with canned fish
- chips – don’t knock it til you try it! There are places that specialize in conservas and they always have chips. The crunch of the potatoes with canned fish can’t be beat. We like going for a thicker cut kettle cooked chip, preferably unsalted to let the flavor of the seafood shine through. Also good are tortilla chips and pita chips. Anything that is handheld, crunchy, and usable as a vehicle for the seafood to your mouth is amazing.
- bread – there’s a large world of bread out there and almost all breads will work well. Think: crusty sourdoughs, crackly baguettes, seeded loaves. You can go for bread in it’s natural state but toasting is a pro move, in my opinion. Don’t forget the good olive oil on the side for dipping.
- crackers – my personal favorite are sourdough discard crackers because of their phenomenal hearty crunch. Your favorite store-bought brands of crackers will do too. Grab a selection so you can mix and match and make different cracker-seafood combinations.
- rice and seaweed – a DIY onigiri (Japanese rice ball) slash hand roll platter is an amazing idea for a conservas platter. All you need are a couple of cans of fish, warm rice, Japanese pickles, roasted seaweed snacks, and furikake.
- hot sauce – Salsa Espinaler is specifically made for conservas, as you can tell from the slightly morbid but happy fish skeleton holding on to a bottle. It’s bright and tangy, vinegary with a hint of warmth. Tangy, vinegar forward hot sauces work best, like Tabasco or Crystal.
What to drink with tinned fish
Wine! Spanish or Portuguese, please, if you’re feeling fancy. You can go with white or red, it’s up to you. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can break open a bottle of Cava (sparkling Spanish wine). Vermouth is also a good choice, with plenty of ice and a twist of lemon or orange. If you want a bit of a more casual feel, beer goes great and, if you don’t drink, I recommend a chilled unsweetened hibiscus tea. Straight hibiscus tea has hints of tannins and is refreshing and light.
What if I don’t like canned fish?
Forget those watery cans of tuna from your childhood. Imagine the freshest fish preserved at it’s height in delicious olive oil. Some tins have a handful of complementary spices and herbs to bring the flavor and some are simple. All are, ironically, fresh tasting, and delicious. Try some, you’ll like it, I promise!
If you want to make your date night in reminiscent of a date night out, don’t forget plating. Everything feels more luxurious and fancy when you plate it artfully. You’ll need:
- A board or large plate – this large serving platter will hold all your tins while protecting your table from the inevitable oil drips. It’s a simple oval that’s cloud colored, that is, white with a little hint of grey; perfect for showing off colorful cans of conservas.
- Two small side plates – these hunter green side plates are modern and fun. I love how dark green looks with food and these have an unobtrusive matte finish
- A large bowl – These pasta bowls are perfect for housing chips, bread, or crackers.
- Glasses – you have several options here. You can go for classic wine glasses, Picardie glasses for some French cafe feels, or fancy thin water tumblers for a mix of sophistication and everyday.
- Two to three small bowls – these are for freshly cracked black pepper, olives, nuts. Basically, anything that’s small and you’re not serving a lot of. We love these small matte bowls. They come with four colors in one set making them fun and mismatched while still clearly being the same.
- Conservas forks – mini forks! If you know, you know. These little forks have just two prongs, making getting seafood out of tins a breeze. Plus they have rustic wooden handles for some farmhouse feels.
- Linen napkins – cloth is fancier than paper and it says, hey, I’m willing to do laundry for you.
Happy canned fish date night!
Conservas Date Night for 2
The best date night is the one you can put together in 5 minutes.
- 1 can tuna or salmon conservas
- 1 can sardines conservas
- 1 can mackerel conservas
- 1 package kettle cooked chips unsalted preferred
- 1/4 cup olives Castelvetrano, Gordal, or Manzanilla preferred
- 1/4 cup marcona almonds
Open the cans of conservas and place on a plate or wooden board, leaving the seafood in the tin.
Open the kettle cooked chips and place in a bowl. Place the olives and almonds in small bowls alongside the conservas.
Serve with hot sauce, fresh herbs, and fresh fruit, if desired. Enjoy with wine!
Herbs: dill, Italian parsley, basil, chives, mint
Fruit: grapes, stone fruit, pomegranate seeds, lemon slices
Hot sauce: Salsa Espinaler, Tabasco, Crystal
Conservas Date Night for 2
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 456
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 3.7g23%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.