Tinned fish for dinner? The thrilling possibilities

bowl of fish with olives and other vegetables
Quality tinned tuna, along with anchovies and sardines, can be exciting for dinner in traditional and inventive ways.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

I know what you’re thinking: “You’re trying to sell me on tinned fish? How ... exciting.” But let me explain. Yes, tinned fish — canned tuna, sardines, anchovies, etc. — might seem dowdy and boring, but a few applications over the past week have made me see them in a new light.

First, I attended a dinner cooked by Corrado Assenza, the Sicilian gelato maker made famous on the Netflix series “Chef’s Table.” Assenza is a master of preserving and transforming fruit into delicious conserves and marmalades. One dish we had was a salad dotted with candied orange, lemon and bergamot peels paired with olive oil-preserved mackerel. The often powerfully pungent fish was matched by the intensely floral citrus peels — it was an exciting combination that left me eager to try the combo on a sandwich at home.

And speaking of sandwiches, after weeks of anticipation and recommendations from friends, I finally tried the tuna salad sandwich from Bub & Grandma’s Restaurant in Glassell Park. The tuna salad itself seemed pretty de rigueur, save for a lack of copious amounts of mayonnaise that usually plague the concoction. But it was paired with a 1-inch-thick equator of iceberg lettuce, lots of shaved red onion, pickle chips and a generous helping of bracing yellow mustard. All those contrasting textures and strong flavors helped cut through the soft tuna salad in a way that had me rethinking that sandwich as well.


Whether it’s for economic reasons or for a change of pace from the typical pantry staples, it seems like everyone is eating a lot more tinned fish these days. And with the crop of new companies that have popped up over the past few years offering high-quality cans and jars of tinned seafood with marinades and dressings already bolstering the seafood inside, there’s no shortage of exciting ways to eat it, whether on sandwiches or straight out of the tins themselves.

I keep a jar or tin of anchovies in my pantry for making Caesar dressing, but I also like to use them for making a classic French pissaladière, a.k.a. Onion Tart With Anchovies and Olives — if I’m having friends over for dinner, it’s an easy starter or meal when paired with a salad. Meltingly tender, caramelized onions are spread over dough and topped with whole anchovies and salt-cured olives. You can make your own dough, use store-bought pizza dough or puff pastry, or just pile some onions on water crackers with a single anchovy and olive for a starter. Anyway you do it, the salty umami of the anchovy and olives is perfectly balanced by the sweet onions.

That same cracker treatment is perfect for Sardines With Chermoula as well. The sauce brightens sardines with garlic, herbs and vinegar and then gets served on crackers for a simple party hors d’oeuvre or just eaten out of a bowl on your couch. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial with sardines, try my Romanesco Con Le Sarde, a spin on the classic Sicilian pasta but made with roasted romanesco. Sardines are paired with sweet golden raisins and crunchy breadcrumbs in a mix flavored with earthy saffron that’s warm and comforting atop the romanesco (though, to be honest, you could use virtually any roast crucifer here, like cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage).

And if you have a high-quality tin of tuna lying around (who doesn’t?), pop it open to mix in with Genevieve Ko’s Smoky Tomato Farro Grain Bowls. She cooks farro with hot pimentón and tomato-flavored stock that’s wonderful as a base for bowls topped with the meaty tuna, salty olives, bitter radicchio and bright, crunchy cucumbers. It takes eating tinned fish to a whole other level that will have you looking beyond the sandwich for inspiration next time you pop open that tab.

Onion Tart With Anchovies and Olives

A crisp, flaky crust and buttery sweet onions are the perfect base for pungent anchovies and black olives in this classic French tart. Serve it as is, cut into wedges for dinner or cut the whole tart into small squares to serve as appetizers.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

Sardines With Chermoula

The mix of bright and herby chermoula sauce on meaty sardines is a bold bite. Serve it on crackers or elevate it for a heartier dinner by putting the fish and sauce atop grilled bread spread with lots of butter.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 12 minutes.


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Romanesco Con Le Sarde

This dish — inspired by the classic Sicilian pasta con le sarde — blankets tender wedges of roasted romanesco in a sauce made of golden raisins, pine nuts, saffron and sardines. For a milder flavor, use high-quality canned tuna instead of sardines. If you prefer anchovies, use 8 fillets here, but mash them in with the tomato paste so they break down and fry in the oil.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour.

overhead view of a grain bowl on a white dish with a spoon in it
(Ben Mims/Los Angeles Times)

Smoky Tomato Farro Grain Bowls With Tuna And Olives

Spread with aioli and tapenade, rustic bread is layered with vegetables, a sliced hard-boiled egg, arugula and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s perfect for lunch after a farmers market morning.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 40 minutes.

bowl of grain with cucumber and cabbage on the table next to it
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

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