Conservas: Talking Tinned Fish with Caputo’s

Tinned fish is making, ahem, waves in the culinary world right now. Matt and Yelena Caputo, from Caputo’s, shared their favorite way to entertain with just a few tins of fish (also called conservas) and zero fuss. We were joined by Vasco Motta from Jose Gourmet and ABC+—Portugal’s smallest cannery. 

Canned and preserved seafood, are popping up this year on TikTok and grazing boards as a culinary trend. But canneries have been preserving fish in tins for a long time. We just seem to be catching up with what the rest of the world already knows. Well-preserved fish in tins is delicious, healthy, sustainable, and nearly instant when it comes to preparing a meal. “I think conservas are having a moment, but like charcuterie, coffee, wine or craft beer, they are here to stay,” says Matt. “There’s a vast culture of connoisseurship behind tinned seafood in other cultures. And they deserve a spot permanently in any fine food culture.”

Caputo's Conservas
Matt and Yelena Caputo. Photo by Adam Finkle.

We’re way beyond your basic canned tuna 

Or even the mushy, mass-produced sardines that make most people think they don’t like sardines. Like taking a leg of pork and curing it into prosciutto or turning milk into cheese, canning fish has always been a way to preserve but also to enhance. 

“There’s a difference to be had between the 99-cent sardines that you find in the grocery store and sardines from small canneries,” says Matt. “These small canneries pay top dollar for the best fish in the world out of the pristine, cold waters of the Atlantic. And then, within an hour or two, they are brought to the facility, cleaned by the caring hands of women who have dedicated their lives and craft to hand trimming the fish, hand packed into cans and sealed with premium olive oils and other delicious ingredients.” 

“We have a tradition of canned fish in Portugal,” explains Vasco. “We used to have 400 canaries in Portugal. Now we have 19. So [at Jose Gourmet], we built our own cannery. We worked with some older ladies from canneries who lost their jobs, who are now teaching new people to keep producing the traditional way.”

Conservas are not just a substitute for fresh seafood but an elevation of seafood.

Today, you can find a wide variety of tinned fish on the shelves at quality grocery stores. Think Spiced Sardine Pate, Tuna Belly in Olive Oil, Razor Clams in Brine, Stuffed Squid in Ragout, Trout in Curry, Smoked Octopus and Lemon Herb Mussels. Not to mention sardines—in olive oil, tomato sauce, lemon, garlic and chile. Just like seasoning and curing pork as charcuterie elevates the pork, preserving and seasoning the seafood elevates the fish. And just think—the cooking is done for you. All you have to do is open a tin. Which makes them the perfect party fare. 

Caputo's Conservas
Caputo’s Conservas Offerings. Photo by Adam Finkle

No cooking required to host the perfect (conservas) dinner party 

Caputo’s has recently added a conservas dinner to their lineup of classes and experiences. Rather than purely educational, it is more about gathering people around a table to taste and experience the variety of beautiful tinned seafood. “Our target market at Caputo’s is a specialty food consumer. They are adventurous and want to try new things,” says Yelena. “But I’m excited to expand that through our conservas dinners. That’s the question, how do we take this mainstream and make tinned fish more approachable for more people?” 

While Matt and Yelena were in Portugal recently, they were treated to a dinner of all tinned fish by Adriano, the founder of Jose Gourmet. “It was an eye-opener for me,” says Yelena. “My absolute favorite activity is to host a dinner party. And I think so many people who are interested in food, that is our pastime, that is what we do. And as beautiful as that experience is, it is also generally an exhausting experience for the host. It is a lot of work, and there is a lot of time and preparation before and after. The beauty of that dinner at Adriano’s house was just seeing the ease with which they made us a multi-course dinner that lasted several hours. Which is what a dinner party is about—being together in a social atmosphere with drinks, food and conversation. And it blew my mind.”

Tips for hosting a ‘sea-cuterie’ dinner 

1. Dip your toe in the water—just add a tin to a charcuterie board.

Not ready to dive in on a full tinned fish dinner? That’s ok. Add a tin or two to your next charcuterie board—something simple and approachable like a spicy tuna pate. It will nestle in with your meat and cheese and pair with everything else. Bonus points if you have some good potato chips to serve. Your guests love it. An excellent canned smoked salmon would also be delicious, served with butter. 

2. Cast your net—gather like-minded friends and have everyone bring a favorite tin of fish for a “sea-cuterie” potluck. 

High quality, sustainable conservas can be a little pricey. So go full potluck and have everyone bring a tin. The best part for the host is that all you have to provide is wine, cheese, bread, crackers or potato chips and some pickle-y things to go along the side. Try serving a crisp, dry white wine or a Portuguese Vhino Verde and these other accoutrements with conservas: 

•Good brined olives

•Vinegary hot sauce 

•Cornichon pickles

•Caper berries

•Marinated peppers 

•Thin-slice apples

•Marcona Almonds 

Caputo's Conservas
‘Sea-Cuterie’ platter. Photo by Adam Finkle.

3. Dive into the deep end—host a conservas dinner. 

A conservas dinner is often served course by course. As Matt described it, “Lots of individual courses of tinned fish at a leisurely pace, just one at a time. You might have a can of trout with curry brought out and served on a plate with bread. You don’t have to make the sauce or cook the fish—it is already there. Everyone stands around and talks and has a glass of wine, and 10 minutes later, the next can is cracked, and everyone gathers round again. So for most of the courses at these dinners, you don’t have to do any prep work other than open the can.”

“It’s good to talk about the fish and what you are eating at that moment,” adds Vasco. “You think about the different types of fish or the different sauces with different fishes, and you talk about ‘Which one combines better for me? Which one combines better for you?’”

Hosting your first dinner? 

•Pick whatever you want to try that  might make a good conversation starter.

•Vasco recommended beginning with simply flavored tins like a pate or sardines in olive oil or with lemon. With each course, add more complex flavored tins with bolder sauces.

•If you want to do a little cooking, toss a well-sauced tin tableside with hot pasta or cooked rice. 

 “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t know where to start,’” says Yelena, but shops like Caputo’s can help. “You come because the folks behind the counter are trained food professionals.They are trained to give you a crash course if you’re new to this. They’ll ask about preferences and help you choose several things that go together.”

 4. Get schooled—attend a class or a conservas dinner. 

Want to skip the hosting part? Caputo’s hosts conservas education classes as well as their new conservas dinners. You can find their class schedule at caputos.com


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Lydia Martinez
Lydia Martinezhttp://www.saltlakemgazine.com
Lydia Martinez is a freelance food, travel, and culture writer. She has written for Salt Lake Magazine, Suitcase Foodist, and Utah Stories. She is a reluctantly stationary nomad who mostly travels to eat great food. She is a sucker for anything made with lots of butter and has been known to stay in bed until someone brings her coffee. Do you have food news? Send tips to lydia@saltlakemagazine.com

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