The Creatives Behind The Tinned Fish Renaissance
The past couple of years have been something of a renaissance for tinned fish. Seemingly all of a sudden, eating fish from a can has transformed from the mayo-drowned mush of a midwestern lunchbox to the high-class wine pairing we see at tapas bars and in Instagram stories. But what exactly pushed tinned fish into its own Cinderella story? ...or perhaps the better question is, who?
That’s what we will dive into today. Who are the people that have created not only a cult following but a full-on movement behind tinned fish? Here, we’ve highlighted a handful of chefs and culinary influencers dedicated to spreading the tinned fish gospel.
The Fish Babes: Becca Millstein and Caroline Goldfarb
Founded on a true love of tinned fish and bolstered by the reclamation of a misogynist insult, Becca Millstein and Caroline Goldfarb founded the tinned seafood company Fishwife. The company celebrates the sustainability and nutrition of tinned fish while broadening the target market. While all the chefs and foodies on this list hope to broaden the tinned seafood horizons beyond simple Starkist tuna sandwiches, Millstein and Goldfarb have a particular audience in mind. Claiming that tinned fish is the “ultimate hot girl food,” they hope to use their platform as TV writers, podcast hosts, music managers, and Instagram influencers to create a younger, hipper following for tinned fish.
Among the ranks of their fellow tinned fish influencers, Millstein and Goldfarb are changing America’s narrative around tinned fish. The aesthetic, brightly colored packaging tries to draw in a broad consumer base. The vintage-inspired label aims to not alienate long-time tinned fish lovers while the touch of whimsy attracts a younger audience seeking out hip new food trends. All in all, Millstein and Goldfarb are two tinned fish heads without whom this list wouldn’t be complete.
The Fish Dad: Chris Mcdade
Long before the pandemic created a demand for shelf-stable food, Chris McDade sang the praises of tinned fish. With the Instagram handle @alwaysanchovy, it’s no surprise McDade made it on this list. Between snacking on oysters during fishing trips along the Georgia coast and enjoying his grandmother’s salmon cakes, McDade had an early introduction to tinned seafood. Subsequently, his love of cooking carried him to Brooklyn, where opened the Italian restaurant Popina. The restaurant even sports a small chef’s shop where you can buy a premier selection of tinned seafood from sustainable and traditional brands.
Between his love of good food and esteemed reputation as a chef, he turned back to his tinned fish roots by writing an entire cookbook on the subject. In the summer of 2021, McDade released The Magic of Tinned Fish. The book includes recipes accessible to anyone who has a box of pasta and a can of fish in their pantries. Steering away from overfished tuna, McDade highlights more sustainable fish choices in his recipes including anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and crab.
The Fish Youtubes: Matthew Carlson and SlowJabroni
Youtube is a magical place for tinned fish reviews and personalities. First, there is the Fish Files. The evolution of Matthew Carlson’s tasting abilities is a sight to behold on his Youtube Channel, Canned Fish Files w/ Matthew Carlson. He has hundreds of videos that range from in-depth single fish reviews to massive, dozen fish side-by-side reviews. Carlson’s deep knowledge base about the world of tinned fish is obvious in his videos, and it can be very educational to the budding tinned fish consumer.
SlowJabroni’s Justin High takes his tinned fish channel in a slightly different direction. One of his most popular features is a blind taste test of six different types of canned tuna. This might sound a little silly at first, but he makes some very good points about quality, production, and pricing while consuming $40 worth of tuna, blindfolded. As one can imagine, the tinned fish Youtube sphere isn’t the biggest, so Mattew and Justin are featured on each other's channels infrequently for a double dose of tinned fish fun.
The Fish Hipster: Alison Roman
Before the Fishwife crew popped up during the pandemic, Alison Roman was the original “tinned fish hot girl.” A food writer with multiple contributions to the New York Times along with award-winning cookbooks, Roman has also embraced the digital age with a youtube channel, weekly newsletter, and Instagram. While she has a wide range of food expertise, she uses all of her platforms to hype tinned seafood. Whether it's singing the praises of a sardine sandwich in her blog or sharing her favorite anchovy pasta dish on her youtube channel, Roman not only normalizes eating fish from a tin but makes it look delectable and fun.
Beyond the culinary appeal of her recipes, Roman uses her writing to engage the novice tinned fish eaters among us. With clear, honest, and accessible descriptions, she walks the reader through not only how a sardine tastes, but also simple pairings. Even just recommending saltine crackers and a squeeze of lemon, Roman opens the door for anyone to try their first bite of an anchovy. While she’s hoping to get everyone on board the tinned fish train, we rest assured knowing that Alison Roman liked it before it was cool.
The Food of the Future
In addition to these incredible foodies, serendipitous timing has helped boost the tinned fish market. Quarantine highlighted a need for shelf-stable food, and all the tinned fish lovers capitalized on the opportunity to share their favorite products. But while the pandemic may have catalyzed the recent increase in demand for tinned fish, there are infinite reasons for it to stay. Sustainable and an excellent source of protein and nutrition, tinned fish has found its way to fine dining establishments and into your favorite food blogs.
While tinned fish might just be the food of the future, we can’t not acknowledge the food’s salient past. Though “trendy and new” to the American palate, tinned fish has been popular in Europe since the invention of the tinned can. Called conservas, Spain and Portugal have been supplying tapas bars and restaurants across Europe with artisanal tinned fish for ages. A few American chefs have taken inspiration from Iberia and opened restaurants like Maiden Lane in New York and Saltie Girl in Boston that celebrate the ease and delicious flavor of tinned fish.
But thanks to folks like McDade and Roman, tinned seafood isn’t just for the gourmands among us anymore. With food blogs, cookbooks, and better access to quality tinned fish, anybody can pop open a can. Inspired to be a fish head yourself? Take your first bite of quality with some smoked sardines on buttered toast or maybe some spiced mackerel on a fresh bowl of arugula. You can’t go wrong with the selection at TinCanFish!