American Restaurants Are Finally Embracing Tinned Seafood

Fish in a can is no longer just a Portuguese souvenir. It’s on the menu.

Sardines in olive oil, mackerel in broth, and mussels escabeche (or mussels poached in vinaigrette) packed in colorful tins are more than the perfect souvenir from a Portugal vacation. Globally, preserved fish is on the up and up. According to Bloomberg, the market for tinned fish is expected to reach $36.7 billion by 2021. Although seafood conserva is admittedly more popular in Europe and Asia, the United States is slowly catching on to the notion that tuna isn’t the only worthwhile fish in a can, and here, restaurants are leading the way.

This isn’t the first time American restaurants have served preserved seafood, often presented without pretense in an open tin to telegraph that, like caviar, it needs no further manipulation. Tinned fish is understandably a staple for restaurants that take inspiration from Basque Country, where canneries are known for producing some of Spain’s most prized seafood. Huertas and Donostia both opened in New York City in 2014 serving Basque food, tinned fish included. (Only Huertas remains open.)

Tinned seafood also makes for a natural accompaniment to natural wine, given how well the salty, fatty fish flavors pair with the often higher-acidity wines. Opened in 2013, New York City’s Maiden Lane serves natural wines and craft beer with its extensive list of preserved seafood. (An accompanying shop sells the canned seafood, which can cost as little as $6 or as much as $45.) In Oakland, Ordinaire opened the same year with the same idea. Wine bar Haley Henry debuted in Boston in 2016 with natural and small-production wines alongside “a whole lotta tin fish.” It’s not the only Boston restaurant to pride itself on its preserved seafood selection: Saltie Girl, which boasts the “largest tinned seafood collection in New England,” also opened in 2016. The year was a big one for wine bars with tinned fish: North Charleston’s Stems & Skins also opened in 2016 with tinned seafood like mackerel pate and squid in ragout.

The trend has continued apace. In 2017, Los Angeles wine bar Hayden put Spanish and Portuguese conservas on its menu, and over the past year, restaurateurs have opened plenty of bars, restaurants, and even a brewery promising menus of tinned fish that venture beyond the standard sardine.