Fish and tomato sauce is a classic culinary combination that’s enjoyed around the world. The sweet acidity of tomatoes complements the mild, meaty flavor of fish, making this a unique and exciting option for dinner. Not only is the pairing delicious, but most recipes are also simple to prepare. Here, we give an overview of why fish and tomato sauce work so well together and introduce a few recipe ideas for you to try!
Fish & Tomato Sauce: Why It Works
While we feel that tomatoes and fish are an obvious combination, we know there may be some skeptics out there. So why does seafood work so well in tomato sauce? For starters, tomatoes have a complex and powerful flavor that tickles our taste buds with a perfect balance of sweet, tart, and savory. In contrast, fish and other seafood bring a delicate flavor and tender source of protein. Brightened up with saffron, garlic, or peppers, the result is tantalizing and nutritious.
For some more background on healthy tomato sauce, check out this article on tomatoes and the keto diet!
An Evolution of Flavor
Great minds think alike, right? This must be the case with fish and tomato sauce as nearly every culture has developed its take on the pairing. Along the Mediterranean, these dishes are especially prevalent. Depending on the country, you can choose between Spanish cod in a thick tomato sauce, Middle Eastern shakshouka with fish, or a classic Greek dish of fish baked in a flavorful tomato sauce, among many others.
Though these dishes seem inextricable from these places, this “match-made-in-the-Mediterranean” isn’t as timeless as you might think. In fact, tomatoes are native to the western hemisphere and weren’t introduced to Europe until the 16th century. In all likelihood, the first fish and tomato combo should be credited to the indigenous people of the Americas. Though Spaniards were suspicious of this novel nightshade at first, it didn’t take long for this delectable and diverse fruit to brighten fishy dishes globally.
Canned Fish In Tomato Sauce
The point of canning is to preserve the food at its peak quality – a process that works extremely well for both fish and tomatoes. Artisanal fish canneries often pair seafood with sauces and flavors that celebrate the fish. Instead of preserving the fish in simple water or brine, you will often find seafood canned in high-quality olive oil, spicy Piri-Piri, or tomato sauce!
Fish & Tomato Sauce Recipes
Below, we’ve included a few recipes that will get you started in the right direction when it comes to making delicious meals with fish and tomato sauce! But this is just to get you started… Each of these is ripe for sprucing up with your favorite tastes and spices.
If you can get seasonal, fresh fish and tomatoes, take advantage of your access! If not, high-quality canned tomatoes and fish will work just fine. Whitefish works best to stand up to the robust and bright flavor of the tomato sauce. It’s a bit mild in flavor, compared to more potent fish like salmon or tuna.
So just add some zest with the flavor profile of your choosing, and get cooking!
Any good shakshouka starts with a delectable mix of spices. The name shakshouka means “all mixed up.” This recipe, adapted from The Mediterranean Dish, follows more of a herbaceous flavor profile, but feel free to add some paprika or cayenne for more spice and earthiness.
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dry dill weed
- 1 tsp turmeric
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
- 3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- ½ cup water
- salt and pepper
- 1 lb white fish fillet (cod, halibut, flounder) cut into large 4 pieces
- Fresh parsley and mint for garnish
- Mix coriander, cumin, dill, and turmeric together. Set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet on medium-high. Add onions and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the jalapeno and garlic. Saute for a few more minutes until fragrant and starting to brown.
- Add in half of the spice mix, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, lime juice, water, and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, season the fish fillets lightly with salt and pepper and with the remaining half of the spice mix.
- Gently add the fish fillets to the pan, nestling the fish pieces into the sauce. Cook on medium-high briefly, then reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked through (it should be flaky).
- Remove from heat and top with the fresh parsley and mint leaves. Serve hot alongside rice or crusty bread.
Bacalao a la Riojana
For a classically simple fish and tomato sauce recipe, try this Spanish take on the meal. Bacalao a la Riojana is a traditional stew from the province La Rioja in northern Spain. This recipe was adapted from Mediterranean Living.
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups tomato puree
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 24 oz white fish
- 2 big roasted red peppers, jarred or made at home
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and saute the garlic and onion over medium heat until golden. Add tomato sauce and mix well. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Reduce heat to low and let cook for 30 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally.
- Nestle the cod fillets in a single layer on the tomato sauce in the pan. Cook on a low simmer for 6-8 minutes on each side. Chop red peppers and add them to the sauce. Cook for a few more minutes, then serve hot!
Canned Sardines on Toast
Not in the mood to cook? No worries! Crack open a can of sardines preserved in a rich tomato sauce. You can eat them straight out of the can or warm them up. Either way, the fish come seasoned to perfection and ready to eat. Toast a slice of ciabatta and enjoy a nutritious snack that’s ready in moments.
Sardines & Spaghetti
Looking for a quick but delicious dinner? This recipe of sardines on spaghetti cooks up in a jiffy from the items in your pantry but has all the same delectable qualities of a more committing stew.
- 1 box spaghetti
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- Chili flakes
- 1 can (14 oz) diced tomato
- 2-3 cans of skinless and boneless sardines in tomato sauce
- ½ cup pitted black olives, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp capers, drained
- Parsley, for garnish
- Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the spaghetti according to pack instructions.
- While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a medium pan and cook the garlic for 1 min. Add the chili flakes, tomatoes, and sardines, breaking up roughly with a wooden spoon. Heat for 2-3 mins, then stir in the olives and capers.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and mix well, adding a bit of starchy water if the sauce is a little thick. Top with a sprinkle of parsley and enjoy!
Endless Flavor, Endless Possibilities
Plenty of protein and omega-3s spruce up the health benefits of cooking with any type of fish. And if you pair it with some tasty tomato sauce, it becomes a complete meal! Fish and tomato sauce achieve that sublime blend of nutritious and delicious. After you’ve tried some of these recipes, experiment with the herbs and spices to cook up more variety. Maybe try something with a curry profile or attempt a version of paella… The possibilities are endless! For any of the recipes, head to TinCanFish for a premium selection of gourmet canned sardines, cod, tuna, and more!