At a dinner party a couple of years ago, the hosts, looking to stave off hunger and tipsy-ness while the chicken tinga finished cooking, opened up a can of smoked oysters.
I wasn’t exactly a stranger to canned fish—I’d eaten my share of tuna salad and even snacked on tinned sardines once or twice—but my boyfriend and I emphatically turned up our noses. I believe one of us uttered the phrase, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
My friend, whose culinary tastes have never led me astray, insisted and held out a small, oily bivalve balanced on a sourdough cracker. Putting the whole thing in my mouth at once and chewing cautiously, I was delighted to discover the delicious umami of smoke and sea. Between four people, we devoured four more cans before dinner was ready.
Thus I became a tinned fish convert, just in time for me to tap into one of the hottest national food trends. American chefs are rediscovering how preserving seafood in cans with oil and spices enhances and transforms flavors, and they’re showing up in specialty shops, on charcuterie boards and tossed into pastas.
Some of the best are imported from Portugal, Spain and Basque country, where they are frequently enjoyed in tapas bars as a snack, often accompanied by an adult beverage. These conservas—doesn’t that already sound better than canned fish?—are as far a cry from the dry, grey chunks of tuna that scarred many of us in our childhood as you can get.
Inspired by this practice, Front & Cooper now offers half a dozen different conservas imported from all over the world on their new bar snack menu. Guests can choose from sardines, cockles, octopus and clams, as well as salmon rillettes and pork pate de champagne ($12 each), served with a bowl of potato chips or crackers.
These protein-packed treats pair equally well with a glass of cava or beer as a craft cocktail, and allow you to linger over a few drinks with friends without feeling fuzzy. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to be more adventurous, perhaps these humble-yet-tasty snacks might be a good place to start.