Canned seafood has been having a moment. It’s the current darling of food media and lifestyle Instagram, and was even dubbed “hot girl food” by Vice earlier this year. If you’ve yet to hop on the tinned fish train, you need to understand that we aren’t talking about the grocery store cans of tuna that stunk up your middle school lunch table—we’re talking smoked oysters, briny sardines, mackerel packed in olive oil with whole lemon slices and garlic cloves. Tinned fish is the flavors of a Mediterranean vacation in shelf-stable form; something you can slap on a piece of toast and convincingly call a gourmet meal.
When it comes to seafood, sustainability can vary wildly, and it’s sometimes difficult to decipher the different environmental buzzwords and labelling iconography. But I did some research and tried my best to find tinned seafood in Portland that isn’t overfished, unethically obtained, or otherwise problematic. The results were something to savor.
If you’re looking for no-stress sustainable seafood, it’s best to go for oysters, mussels, or clams—otherwise known as bivalves. They’re the easiest seafood to farm or fish sustainably, and there’s even an argument to be made that bivalves can technically be considered vegan food. I’m not wading into the rocky waters of that conversation, but I will say that there are some divine canned bivalve options out there for those who wish to partake.
If you’re looking for no-stress sustainable seafood, it’s best to go for oysters, mussels, or clams—otherwise known as bivalves.
For mussels, I suggest the sofrito mussels from Patagonia Provisions ($7, available at Flying Fish), which come packed in a savory red pepper broth and make for a great addition to a tapas board with olives, hummus, and crackers. (And yes, it’s the same Patagonia you’re thinking of.) I scored two different brands of clams at New Seasons: Bar Harbor ($5) and Snow’s ($3), both of which carry a blue badge from the reputable Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) on their labels. Both clams came packed simply, in clam juice, and they made a nice addition to my partner’s seafood stew with cilantro, tomatoes, and garlic, served over rice. As a nice bonus, I also picked up a bottle of Bar Harbor clam juice ($4, New Seasons), which served as a base for the stew.
For the oysters, I cheated a little bit on the “canned” thing, picking up a jar of Willapa Bay oysters from Jolly Roger Oysters ($8, Portland Fish Market). These fat, salty beauties don’t have the longevity of a tinned option, but they do keep in the fridge for two weeks after you buy them, and taste as fresh as if you scraped them off a rock on the beach yourself. (If you really want the full can-opener experience, you can also get tinned Willapa Bay oysters at the Portland Fish Market.) We did a quick bread-and-fry job on these, not wanting to dilute their natural flavor too much, and served them with a simple lemon garlic mayo.
Once you work your way through the bivalves, your next-best option for guaranteed sustainability are sardines and anchovies, particularly if they have the MSC seal of approval. Patagonia’s lemon olive oil Spanish white anchovies ($7, Flying Fish) come from “thriving, well-managed populations in the Bay of Biscay, off Northern Spain,” according to the brand’s website. These anchovies were less salty than you might expect, and they made a nice substitute for tuna in a salad of Kewpie mayo, lime juice, pickled thai chillies, and cilantro, which I ate on toast. Finally, Henry & Lisa’s sardines ($4.50, New Seasons) carried the MSC badge and came packed in salt water, and made an absolutely scrumptious addition to a pasta with lots of Calabrian chillies, butter, garlic, and parsley.
Tinned fish may be a trend right now, but after my culinary journey through the anchovies of Northern Spain and the oysters of the Washington coast, I think it deserves to become a mainstay.