Canned fish can be a great source of nutrition, especially when cost and shelf life are a concern. Find out what to do with canned fish and seafood to make it taste great.
Types of canned fish and seafood
Without a doubt, the most common fish in a can is tuna, but there is a decent variety of fish and seafood available in canned form:
- Fish: tuna, sardines, salmon (red, pink), anchovies, mackerel, herrings, kipper, trout
- Seafood: oysters, mussels, crabmeat
In general, canned fish and seafood are great source of protein and long chain omega-3 fatty acids. Some varieties also contain high amounts of zinc (e.g. oysters), calcium (e.g. salmon and sardines) and iodine (e.g. mussels and oysters). The graphs below contain a comparison of some of nutrients for different types of foods (data from 1).
How to choose canned fish and seafood
Water vs oil
When buying canned fish and seafood, choose those in springwater or brine. The ones packed in oil often contain low quality seed oils. The ones labelled “with olive oil” often contain a blend of cheap oils and a small percentage of (probably not extra virgin) olive oil. There are a few brands offering tuna, sardines, etc. packed in 100% extra virgin olive oil which are a good choice. They are harder to find and tend to be more expensive, so my recommendation is to get the fish in water, drain it and add your own extra virgin olive oil.
Besides the already mentioned low quality seed oils, flavoured tins of fish often contain undesirable ingredients such as sugar. Again, your best bet is to buy the plain fish packed in water, drain it and add your own flavourings (e.g. herbs, spices, squeeze of lime/lemon, hot sauce).
Tuna is one of the fish species which are overfished, representing a problem in terms of sustainability. According to the Greenpeace Australia canned tuna guide, the best options are skipjack and albacore tuna caught using the following fishing methods: pole and line, trolling or handline, purse seine FAD-free.
The 2017 Canned Tuna Guide identified the following brands based on their commitment to sustainability and human rights. The top 6 were Fish4Ever, John West, Safcol, Aldi, Sirena and Coles.
As mentioned in my post about canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, some food cans are lined with bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical that can cause endocrine disruptions. Look for brands that offer cans with no BPA.
What to do with canned fish
If you’re bored of eating tuna on crackers or mixed with microwaveable rice, below is a list of ideas for you to enjoy canned fish and seafood. Note that the recipes I’ve linked below use tuna, but salmon works well too. Canned seafood has a different texture but it’s delicious in salads and stews.
- Throw it on salads such as niçoise salad
- Make poke bowls
- Make sushi rolls
- Make sandwiches with either a classic mayonnaise-bound tuna salad or my childhood atún playero
- Eat it with pasta, e.g. tallarines blancos con atún
- Make a dip with sour cream or cheese (cottage, ricotta or cream) and fresh herbs
- Mix with hard-boiled egg yolks to make devilled eggs
- Eat with avocado for breakfast
- Make croquettes (fritters) such as my mum’s tuna croquettes
- If you have leftover mash (or potatoes), make the classic Peruvian dish causa de atún
- Use it in stews instead of other proteins (such as chicken), e.g. my recipe for ají de atún with lupin flakes
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand (2014). AUSNUT 2011–13 – Australian Food Composition Database. Canberra: FSANZ. Available at www.foodstandards.gov.au