It’s Time To Get Into Tinned Fish

Feature image by CSA Images via Getty Images

Hello, and welcome to It’s Time To Get Into, a new snacking series. This is a mostly no-cook food column!!!!! Because sometimes you just don’t have the time or desire to cook! And because sometimes you just need someone to help you spice up your grocery list! Let me be that someone! I’ll use this column to highlight ready-made foodstuff that shouldn’t be too hard to find at major grocery stores. First up: FISH. Specifically, fish in cans, tins, and jars.

This Nylon piece takes a look at the rise of the tinned fish trend, which peaked this past summer. But if you haven’t known where to start, feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, or were wondering how to even eat this stuff, I’m here to help! Tinned fish is an easy, great snack that, much like a cheese plate, takes minimal effort but feels fancy? And actually on that note, all of the tinned fishies I’m about to recommend would make a great addition to a cheese plate! Get your seacuterie on!


What To Buy

Lots of stylish tinned fish companies have spring up over the past few years, and while I want to focus more on grocery store options, I do feel like I should shoutout some of these options.

Fishwife keeps things very simple, epitomizing the whole concept of “just do a few things but do them WELL.” They sell a smoked albacore tuna, a smoked rainbow trout, a smoked Atlantic salmon, and sardines in olive oil with preserved lemon. They’re all sold as three-packs for between $24 and $33. But what I especially love about Fishwife is the artist collabs they do for limited edition merch, like this shirt, which I desperately need.

Patagonia Provisions has a lot more options like Spanish white anchovies in lemon olive oil, lemon caper mackerel, savory sofrito mussels, and more. They’re a great place for finding recipes that use tinned fish, too.

Scout, Nuri, and Conservas Ortiz are all online options, too.

The fancy stuff is fun and festive and has very pretty packaging, but this is a grocery store column, and I want to help you live your best snacking life without getting too fussy and spendy! So, here are some of my top picks for tinned fish that you can likely find amid all the canned tuna at your grocery store with quick tips for how to eat them with an emphasis on no-cook options but the occasional more advanced/involved recipe as well (the next section has more specific tips for HOW to eat tinned fish).

Royal Red Canned Salmon

Mix it with some mayo, salt, and pepper, and spread it on a cracker or use it in that viral TikTok rice bowl or put it in a bowl with some chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh herbs like dill or parsley, feta, and throw a vinaigrette on it. An advanced option: these hand rolls. Read more about canned salmon, which can sometimes be a more sustainable substitute for canned tuna.

Iberia Cockles In Brine

I like them on their own, but they’d also be good on toast. Also check out Iberia’s spicy sardines, which are delicious on their own or incorporated into a pasta sauce.

Blue Hill Bay Pickled Herring

I’ve only been able to find this particular brand of pickled herring at Whole Foods. Vita’s herring in wine sauce is easier to find other places, but I don’t like it as much (it’s a little too sweet for me). If you’re new to pickled herring, it’s an acquired taste! Definitely on the fishier side of things. I eat it by itself, straight out the jar. If I’m feeling fancy, I will put them on a plate with some sliced onion and sprigs of dill.

Fruits De Mer Marinated Anchovies

These are hands down my favorite grocery store anchovies, but once again I’ve only seen them at Whole Foods. They’re good on their own or on a cracker with some goat cheese or on toast.

King Oscar Sardines With Cracked Pepper and Sardines With Jalapeño

I like these on bread with some tomatoes and butter or on their own or as a toast or on the side of fried eggs with chili crisp. If you can find King Oscar Tiny Tots at your grocery store (my Publix sadly does not have them!) they are a top-tier affordable pick, and the Royal Selection line is also great.

Bumble Bee Smoked Oysters and Hot + Spicy Smoked Oysters

Eat them on their own or take a cracker, put a spreadable cheese on it, and then put a smoked oyster on top. A truly heavenly bite! This would also be a really easy yet fancy thing to serve at the beginning of a dinner party. Arrange the oyster-topped crackers on a platter and add some cracked pepper and chives.

Trader Joe’s Smoked Trout Fillets

Smoked trout is good in soft scrambled eggs or, for a no-cook option, mixed with canned white beans and chopped red onion with a squeeze of lemon and maybe some herbs.

Cento Whole Baby Clams

I basically wish I was always eating clam dip, which is just chopped clams, sour cream, lemon juice, worcestershire, and cayenne pepper or hot sauce. It’s one of the greatest chip dips there is. My pantry always has a couple cans of Snow’s chopped clams but I also like to buy whole baby clams.

Dongwon Tuna With Hot Peppers

The fact that there is no H Mart in Miami haunts me!!!!!! This slightly hot, slightly sweet sauced tuna is great on bread/crackers/toast.

Yu Dong Canned Ark Shell

These cockles can be a banchan on their own or could be subbed for fresh clams in a kkomak bibimbap.


How To Eat It

A friend recently texted me and was like “I wanted to get into anchovies,, but how do I actually eat them???? Right out of the can? On top of something? Help!” I realized that even though there are a million lists out there of tinned fish brands to try, a lot of them skip over the important information of HOW to actually eat them.

So first thing’s first: You absolutely can just grab a fork and pop open a can of fish and dig in. That’s not against the rules! In fact, eating tinned fish straight out the can at my desk while working is a lot more thrilling than any other kind of desk-meal situation. Marinated options are great on their own because they already have a lot of flavor going on. The Patagonia Provisions mussels and Iberia octopus in garlic sauce are good on-their-own options.

If you want to add a couple more steps though, you can also slap some fish on a cracker or on bread. Mix canned salmon with some mayo, celery salt, and pepper, and that’s a salmon salad, baby! Eat it the same way you’d eat a basic tuna salad — on a sandwich or on a cracker. I like anchovy toast — literally just goat cheese and anchovies on toast. I also like buying an unsalted whipped butter at the grocery store and then adding flavors to it to make fancy whipped butter!

Seaweed butter: mince/blend/food process snacking seaweed and then mix it in
Spicy honey butter: just add spicy honey (I’ve been into Mike’s EXTRA hot and this Burlap & Barrel x Clif Family Winery collab) or regular honey and chili flakes
Smoky butter: add smoked salt

Slather some fancy butter onto some crusty bread and pop some fish on top, and you’ve got a whole no-cook meal. Frutti di mare (chilled seafood salad) can also absolutely be made with canned octopus, squid, clams, scallops, and shrimp.

You can cook with tinned/canned fish, too. Canned salmon and canned tuna make good toppings in rice bowls and can also be used in pasta recipes. I almost exclusively make clam pasta with canned clams, and anchovies break down really well in sauce bases.

Happy snacking! 🐟


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 394 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. kayla thank youuuu for your amazing food writing.
    tinned fish plays a big role in my kitchen. like I’m looking at a stack of king oscar sardines as I write this. and mashed tinned anchovy + a sharp, dry cheese + lemon + capers form the base of many a quick pasta dish for me

  2. Please avoid farmed salmon (which is often labelled Atlantic Salmon), it truly is a crime against the planet. Wild alaska salmon isn’t great either, as new science emerges about Fraser and Columbia River salmon migrating to Alaska and being overfished there. Wild salmon are facing huge challenges when is comes to warming waters and the effects of farmed salmon, and all the species that depend on salmon (like killer whales) are feeling the effects as well.

  3. Thanks for commenters letting us know what fish we should avoid eating to avoid promoting ecological disaster.
    I’d like to butt in the conversation to mention that as far as I know, farming oysters is environmentally pretty safe, so far. And to express how jealous I am at the US having tinned smoked oysters! Never saw that in Europe, and I definitely need them.

    • Yes! Bivalve aquaculture! Farmed oysters, mussels, scallops, and other filter feeders are sustainable and even can be a benefit to their marine environment. Scallops be careful with wild-caught cuz they are harvested by bottom trawling. But I seriously love smoked oysters what a gift. Maybe the UK has em! They are very oysetery over there according to “Tipping the Velvet”.

  4. Post workout, easy protein on the go is the way I view tinned fish. Some smell “fishier” than others which can be a problem for other people so be aware, I will have to give these a try. Thank you for sharing!

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