It’s in the Can
America finally catches on to the canned fish trend that’s part of daily European life.
Visit Spanish or Portuguese bars and markets and you’ll likely find a variety of conservas — seafood preserved in oils, seasonings and sauces and canned for later consumption — that are snacking staples in those and other European countries.
Recently, American restaurateurs have begun importing conservas, sometimes for European clientele, other times to introduce curious American diners to another delicacy. The trend is taking off from Detroit to Boston to Washington D.C. and beyond.
Pop the aluminum top to find a range of seafood plucked from the sea, cooked and immediately preserved to be later enjoyed as a snack often served with fresh baguettes or on a charcuterie board. You can find razor clams, octopus, mussels, anchovies, scallops, oysters, cockles and more.
“From a novice standpoint, you have to get your head wrapped around it texturally,” says Donald Carlin, owner of Dyllan’s Raw Bar in Washington, D.C. “It’s not fishy; they have a complex, dynamic flavor.”
Americans may turn up a nose to canned fish, as they’re used to grocery-store products that may have smelled fishy. Conservas have a higher-quality taste and in a range of pricing.
“The profit margin is respectable on them, but it all depends on your business model,” explains Elias Khalil, owner of Detroit’s Cata Vino Mercado & Wine Bar. “We have an operating philosophy that everything in our establishment should be accessible. We look for profit, but we’re not driven by greed.”
Boston’s Saltie Girl has upwards of 65 tins on its menu and sells them at retail, too. “It’s a unique experience to have the opportunity to taste as many as you want,” says owner Kathy Sidell. “We usually find that people have two to four on the table. It’s a great starter where you can mix and match and play.”
Conservas make for a fun happy hour offering, as they pair with many beverages from crisp, dry wines like Spanish albariño and French Chablis to dry cider, sparkling wines and Belgian whites.
“They go so beautifully with many drinks: a classic martini, Manzanilla sherry on tap, a gin and tonic,” says Dan Smith, general manager of Chicago’s Queen Mary, which sources its conservas from neighbor Wixter Market. “Anything bright and crisp will cut a bit of the richness of the fish.”
But just enough so your customers can truly enjoy those beautiful flavors.