The Twelve Days of Fishmas (2022) by Ali Hooke
1) José Gourmet Tuna Fillets in Olive Oil, of the four tunas being tinned today (skipjack, yellowfin, albacore, and bluefin) this is the smallest fish, skipjack, the lowest on the food chain, not an apex predator, and the species recommended by experts as the safest of the tunas in terms of sustainability. Portugal.
2) Ortiz Sardinas a la Antigua “Old Style” Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, tin, a classic tin from a classic conserverie, and really really hard to beat. Big, beautiful, silver-skinned sardines. Spain.
3) Fangst Danish Freshwater Trout Smoked, with Juniper and Lemon Thyme, an unusual but delicious combination, lightly smoked trout with juniper and lemon thyme. Surprisingly versatile, can be added in as the protein in a wrap, as a salad topper, or even gently folded into rice. They also make world-class sprats, mussels, Atlantic salmon, and cockles. Denmark.
4) Bogar Stuffed Baby Squid in Ink, can be eaten straight from the tin, but are at their best if gently warmed and served over rice, or tossed with pasta. The black ink sauce is rich and savory. Spain
5) Ati Manel Mussels in Escabeche, escabeche is a method of preservation older than canning which preserves the seafood in a blend of oil, vinegar, herbs and spices. Plain potato chips are a traditional delivery vehicle for consuming these straight from the tin, but we also love folding the tin liquid into whipped potatoes and serving the meats atop, allowing the heat from the potatoes to gently warm the mussels. Oil, vinegar, herbs and spices are also the constituents of vinaigrette, and you can whisk the tin liquid into a sauce stable and thick enough to coat the meats. Portugal.
6) Patagonia Provisions Roasted Garlic Spanish White Anchovies, these are not like pizza anchovies. Those are fillets that are salt-cured before being packed in oil. These are the same fish, processed like sardines: whole fish steamed and then canned in oil and flavorings. The flavor bits are packed on the bottom of the tin, not mixed throughout or placed on top, so you’ll want to drain the oil and lift the fish out of the tin onto a plate if you want to enjoy those bits along with the fish. Spain.
7) Nuri Mackerel Fillets in Olive Oil, one of the most sustainable fish available, and one of the most delicious. Can be used in all the ways you’d use canned tuna, and can be served in all the ways you’d eat sardines. Produced entirely by hand, no machines are involved at any point in the production. The oil is good enough to save for making salad dressing, frying stale bread into croutons, frying potatoes, or just about any other typical kitchen use. If you’ve never fried saltines before, this is the time. Portugal.
8) Ati Manel Garfish in Spiced Olive Oil, garfish are very commonly consumed in Spain and Portugal in all the same ways as sardines, but not so much in this country. We love them. We find them meatier than sardines, and with a distinctly different and pleasant chew. Where a sardine would be shaped like an inverted teardrop in cross-section, the garfish is shaped more like a pencil. Also sometimes referred to as needlefish. The “spiced” aspect comes from the piri-piri pepper. Just a little bit of zip, not hot at all. Portugal.
9) Officer Smoked Cod Liver, an almost impossibly luxurious product, the ingredients are: cod liver. The oil in the tin is what naturally expresses from the liver. They call this the foie gras of the tinned fish world, and this is a well-deserved comparison. So rich you’ll want to cut the flavor a bit with something acidic, like pickled shallots or a favorite mustard. France
10) Tiny Fish Co. Octopus with Lemon and Dill, from Chef Sara Hauman of Top Chef fame, comes a small line of tinned fish products produced to a chef’s specifications. Lemon, dill, and butter are the perfect complement to the meaty ocean flavor of octopus. Notoriously difficult for home cooks to prepare, the canning process produces textural perfection every time. All canned octopus is bycatch, meaning no one goes out to fish for octopus, canneries are processing only what is caught by accident while fishing for other species. USA
11) Marusa Shirasu Whitebait (“Anchovies”) with Yuzu Kosho, whitebait is the immature fry of several different species. The exact mix depends on where it’s caught, these are going to be mostly anchovies with some sardines mixed in, but at this stage of growth there’s no way to tell them apart. Traditionally served as the garnish to a bowl of rice, very often as breakfast. Japan. (We may run out of the Yuzu Kosho version, and may substitute another flavor.)
12) Güeyu Mar Chargrilled Razor Clams 6/8, unique in the tinned fish world, in that they are chargrilled before being canned in what many consider to be the best olive oil in Spain. Abel Álvarez, the chef behind Gueyu Mar, has a restaurant famous for chargrilling seafood caught within sight of the restaurant. He started the cannery because of a lifelong love of conservas, and so that he could employ his team during the off seasons. That hint of the fire is transportive, and memories of the beach and meals shared there come flooding back. A really special tin. Spain.