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A Guide to a Tinned Fish Dinner Party

Published on 4 minutes read
Words by Song-I Saba, Imagery by Song-I Saba
"Unbeknownst to most, tinned fish has long been lauded as a delicacy in countries like France, Portugal and most notably, in Spain. ‘Conservas’, as they are called, are an essential part of Spanish culinary tradition and are served in restaurants and wine bars straight from the tin."

Song-I Saba's lifelong pursuit of tinning uni one day takes a temporary backseat as she puts together the dream dinner party with products from her company, PYSCIS.

My father and I have been running PYSCIS, a small gourmet tinned fish company, since 2019. Our mutual obsession with food led us to travel down the coast of Spain in a VW van at the height of the late summer canning season, visiting tiny artisanal canneries run mostly by Spanish women using labour-intensive heritage methods, tasting all their seasonal delicacies. Recently our search led us further astray, to Latvia’s Baltic sea and even to seaweed farms in South Korea.

We wanted to see if we could make the perfect tin of fish. The challenge lay in taking an often overlooked, humble food item and producing only the very best gourmet conserves, annually and exclusively in limited editions, in order to combine age-old fishing and tinning techniques with a fresh approach to conserves for a global market.

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Fish and seafood species that are lesser known are more interesting to my father and I due to their culinary properties, species awareness and sustainable thinking. Our responsibly sourced, small batch conservas are wrapped only in printed parchment paper and fixed on the side by natural rubber. Combined, we hope that the contents and the packaging reflect quality, tradition and craftsmanship for the modern pantry.

Unbeknownst to most, tinned fish has long been lauded as a delicacy in countries like France, Portugal and most notably, in Spain. ‘Conservas’, as they are called, are an essential part of Spanish culinary tradition and are served in restaurants and wine bars straight from the tin.

Way before the #TinnedFishDateNight trend on TikTok , before the “hot girl food” memes, the modern canning industry was invented when Napoleon, seeking a better way to feed his troops, launched a contest by offering 12,000 francs to anyone who could devise a method to better preserve rations for transport. A confectioner in Paris named Nicolas Appert placed food inside glass jars which were corked, sealed with wax, and boiled until cooked.

The discovery shook the world. One newspaper wrote, “In each bottle, and at small expense, is a glorious sweetness that recalls the month of May in the depths of winter.”

Once you get hooked (bad pun, sorry), well-sourced tinned fish and seafood are an endless delight to be shared, and best enjoyed over a big table of friends. Here are my top tips how:

1. The more the merrier

Don’t be afraid to get a real assortment of wild things, as well as different recipes for the same species of fish. Arranging a platter of various tins will encourage people to compare tastes, smells, textures, much like they would at a wine or a cheese tasting. It opens up people’s eyes to the variety possible both in flavor and in quality of the catch and the oil it was tinned in — plus, this encourages conversation. If you provide a variety of species, there is bound to be something even the pickier guests will like.

2. Spend money on the basics

The most important things to make sure you do is get the best quality crusty bread, and the best quality butter you can. It doesn’t have to be quite as expensive as the famous Brittany ‘Bordier’ butter, which is kneaded by hand on a wooden table (this apparently takes 12 times longer to produce than machine-kneading), but avoiding flavourless low-cost butter will be worth the extra couple quid in this scenario. An array of tins differing in price is all part of the fun, but if you get cheap supermarket bread and butter, the comparison effect will be ruined. It’s worth spending more on the foundational dinner items that serve as vehicles and enhancers of the tinned goods.

3. Cleanse the palate

If you’re a real purist, all you’ll need is the crusty sourdough bread and the premium butter mentioned above. But there’s no end to the pairings one can come up with. Any side salads or slaw can provide a textured crunch that can cleanse the palate between tins. Pickled red onion and citrus zest can also up the ante as bread toppings. Different flavored dips and small appetizers make for a gustatory rest from the fish. At our dinner table, we have paired tins with Syrian small plates and Korean kimbap. Anything goes.

4. Wine pairing

A dry, crisp white is the best accompaniment to most tinned fish and seafood. Serve it cold and serve it plentifully. More experienced wine drinkers can endeavor to serve tins by the category as courses paired with their own wines. But I have never attempted anything this fancy.

5. No waste

The beauty of eating this way is that whatever you have left in the fridge that week can be added to the communal table and it’s unlikely to look out of place. Half an avocado wrapped in foil? Slice it up and have it accompany your bread and tins with some lemon, rock salt and chili flakes. Hummus or tzatziki? There’s no reason you can’t let people come up with their own combinations and see what works for them. Any good quality olive oil should also be served and savored. We like to use infused olive oil for salad dressings, and if you feel like it, you can make a killer tin-oil aioli (recipe below).

TIN OIL AIOLI RECIPE

Ingredients

— 1 egg

— 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

— 1 garlic clove (crushed)

— 1/2 teaspoon mustard (Dijon)

— Oil from 1-2 tins of PYSCIS sardines

— 1/2 further cups olive oil

— Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, lemon juice, garlic, and mustard using a metal whisk.

2. Place the bowl on a kitchen towel to hold it still.

3. Whisking consistently, add the oil drop by drop, allowing each addition to incorporate into the egg mixture before adding more. As more oil is incorporated, you can pour the oil in a stream.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk in more olive oil (a drop at a time) to taste, or use the lemon juice to thin the aioli, if needed.

More recipe options:

Pasta con le Sarde "Royale"

Sardines on Toast with Citrus Zest & Pickled Red Onion

PYSCIS is available through their UK partner Natoora, and deliver Europe-wide through their online store.

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