You don’t have to do much to enjoy a good tin of sardines or tuna. You could just eat the contents straight from the tin, or stick them on crackers, enlivened with some mustard or a squirt of lemon juice. But it takes only a little more effort to put together an impressive tinned fish spread worthy of a party—without even turning on the stove. Here’s how I like to do it.
At the very least, you’ll want:
- Tinned fish. Budget one tin per person—one and a half if people are hungry. If you’re a bigger group, get a variety so that people can try different types: not just sardines and tuna but also mussels en escabeche, octopus, squid, clams, etc. I order my tins from Portugalia Marketplace and Rainbow Tomatoes Garden, but there are lots of other great companies selling good-quality seafood these days. Look for yours locally.
- Bread. Bread is the backdrop on which your tinned fish will shine. I like sourdough, but darker breads (rye, seven-grain, etc.) are also great.
- Butter. Yes, tinned fish usually come packed in oil. But layering your fats will make this feast even more decadent. Regular salted butter, high-fat European butter, or cultured butter are all fair game. Slather it on your bread before you lay down the fish.
- Salt. Flaky salt seasons the fish and provides a bit of crunch; smoked salt and pink salt can add complexity.
- Lemon and/or mustard. You want a little acid to cut through all that fat.
- Thinly sliced shallots. Tinned fish like to play with other strongly flavored foods. Next to lemon, savory shallots are an oily fish’s best friend. Serve them plain or pickled.
Quick Pickled Shallots and Radishes
The shallots retain their crunch and need only a quick stir to retain the sweet, salty, acidic flavor of the pickling liquid. Learn how to make this recipe today.
Serve tinned fish with lots of accoutrements so that every bite can be different. When you’re throwing a party, more is more.
- Herbs. Parsley, dill, shiso, and kkaennip can all be lovely on tinned fish.
- Beans. Earthy, creamy beans are a natural foil for tinned fish of all sorts. Use canned beans—or, better, heirloom varieties—and toss them with a simple, mustardy vinaigrette.
- Something crunchy. Thinly sliced radishes, celery, or fennel provide textural contrast.
- Something bitter. A simple salad of arugula, watercress, escarole, or radicchio balances the oily fish.
- Something briny. Tinned fish also like funky, briny pickles. Capers, cornichons, and pickled peppers are all great.
Look for wines that are “fresh, zippy, and aromatic,” as Miguel de Leon, wine director of Pinch Chinese, put it. Because some of the most famous tinned fish comes from Spain and Portugal, de Leon recommends serving wine from the same region—Txakoli, Albariño, or Vinho Verde if you want a white, or a Galician Mencía or a slightly chilled Trepat from Penedès if you want a red.
Similarly, Stephanie Webster, owner of natural wine and cheese shop The Rhined in Cincinnati, recommends “salty and mineral[ly] wines” with high acidity from coastal regions and areas with volcanic soil—and “bubbles, always bubbles.” Like de Leon, she recommends wines from the Basque region, such as Txakoli, but also whites from Sicily (where Mount Etna is), Campania, or Soave.
Don’t want to drink wine? Try a dry sherry or a natural cider, says Webster.