Before you rush to judgement, let’s get one thing clear.
We are not talking cafeteria tuna salad here. We’re talking freshly-packed and preserved fish and shellfish, ready to be enjoyed straight from the tin. These premium provisions are handpacked by artisans dedicated to quality and fresh ingredients. Think caviar, not chicken of the sea. Accompanied with crusty bread and a glass of wine, conserva are your ticket to the good life.
A fixture at wine bars and bistros across coastal Europe, conserva are held on the same pedestal as cheese and charcuterie. It’s more than tinned seafood for our European friends, it’s a way of life.
Conserva are just starting to break into the US market. They’re popping up in trendy wine bars and restaurants across the country. They should definitely be on your table, too.
Conserva are freshly-tinned fish and shellfish, preserved in a liquid (i.e. olive oil, salt water, etc.) and packed for storage and transit. Most importantly, they’re ready to be popped and enjoyed at a moment’s notice. No prep required, except for cracking open a bottle of white wine, of course.
All types of seafood are freshly preserved as canned conserva from fish to shellfish, roe to caviar. Common fish types include anchovies, branzino, cod, hake, herring, salmon, sardines, trout, and many different types of tuna.
Conserva come in a variety of formats from whole form, fillet, paté, to special cuts like belly. The seafood can be preserved in a variety of liquids to seal in moisture and maintain freshness. Olive oil is the most common, but brines, sea water, sauces and even squid ink are used. Conserva can be packed without any added flavor or seasoning to celebrate the essence of the seafood inside, but they also come accompanied by lemon, wine, peppers, garlic, and paprika.
Conserva primarily come from coastal countries in Europe such as France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. But there are a growing number of Canadian and US artisans getting in on the action.
Conserva Culture around the World
The conserva culture in Europe runs deep.
Denizens of the Iberian Peninsula—Spain and Portugal, specifically—are the primary producers and consumers of conserva. Entire specialty shops in Portugal and Spain are dedicated to conserva.
Head into any wine bar in Lisbon or Madrid, Porto or Barcelona, and you’ll find a variety of fish in a can, ready to be opened, served at room temperature, and enjoyed with a bottle of wine.
The US Invasion of Tinned Seafood
Despite trailing in the popularity of its meat-based cousins salami, prosciutto, and jamón, tinned seafood is on the rise.
Restaurants and wine bars are leading the charge. Across the US, from Austin to Portland, Los Angeles to Seattle, hip spots are serving these canned treasures. Some go so far as to only serve conserva. That’s right, all conserva, all the time.
These efforts are breaking the perception of canned food in the US, and the culture around tinned seafood is slowly changing.
You might be wondering, what’s the secret? What’s so special about seafood in a can?
Conservas, An Oxymoron in a Can
Fresh canned seafood may seem like an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what it is.
The best conserva producers take local seafood straight from catch to can. This captures the seafood at peak freshness, creating a time capsule of flavor ready for enjoyment at a later date.
Many of the conserva producers are traditional, family-owned canneries that work directly with the fresh seafood. The best portions of the daily catch are saved for conserva. The idea is to preserve the best for later.
Fresh flavors of the sea, on demand? Yes, please.
How to Eat Conserva
Anyway you like. That’s the beauty.
The simplest method is often the best. It’s also the most traditional in Europe. Straight out of the can with some bread and a glass of wine. The rich and flavorful liquid the conserva is preserved in? That’s liquid gold, ready for some serious bread dipping.
The fuss-free nature of conserva makes them perfect for on-the-go gourmet lunches or afternoon snacks. Add in a few supporting actors like cheese, olives, or veggies and you have a spread ready for two, or three, or four. Plus, no clean-up required.
Just don’t forget the wine.
What Wine to Pair with Conserva
Fresh, crisp wines are the name of the game.
What grows together, goes together. An Albariño from the Rias Baixas will work wonders. But any crisp white wine will balance the fresh, briny flavors of the conserva. For the record, you can never go wrong with a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
Where to Buy Conservas
Quality conservas from Europe can be difficult to find in the US. Thankfully, we have a range of canned seafood online from the best conserva brands. The Yellowfin Tuna Belly in Olive Oil from Ramón Peña is a great place to start.
This premium tuna conserva comes straight from the Atlantic waters in Galicia, Spain. The gourmet albacore tuna is cleaned and canned by hand. Careful attention is applied to maintain solid pieces of filet, not broken or ground pieces. Local olive oil is applied to keep the fish moist and sealed. The conserva is rich and flavorful with superb texture, richness, and depth of flavor. The mild aroma speaks to the freshness and quality of fish. The secret to the quality rests in the Ventresca tuna belly.
What is ventresca? It refers to the belly cut of the tuna, considered the finest and most flavorful portion. Spanish toro to the savvy sushi lover.
Ramón Peña is one of the premier conserva producers in all of Spain. For over 100 years and three generations, this family business has used artisan-quality techniques to produce top quality conserva that capture the flavors and texture of local, Spanish seafood.
This is a can’t miss conserva that will change your mind forever on tinned seafood.