Brandish your mini fork. Here are a few favorite tins, according to the little fish obsessives.
Tinned fish keeps swimming onto restaurant menus across San Francisco, where natural-wine bars proudly set sardines alongside a spritz, from Chezchez in the Mission to La Bande in the Proper Hotel. These days, it couldn’t be easier to crack and peel back a tin at home. More are available than ever, including imports from Spain and Portugal as well as new canneries up the West Coast. If you’ve been eyeing cute and colorful labels but aren’t sure where to dive in, we chatted with a few chefs for their top tins, as well as fun snacking tips.
We had to ask chef Stuart Brioza of the Anchovy Bar. Brioza loves little fish in all forms—fresh, cured or tinned—and he painstakingly preserves our local anchovies. But tinned anchovies also star on the menu, namely Don Bocarte from Cantabria in Northern Spain. Not heat treated, they must be refrigerated, and Brioza says you can taste the difference, with delicate filets layered in olive oil. The restaurant serves them with griddled bread, whipped butters and grated tomatoes brightened with sherry vinegar, alongside a crisp white wine. But at home, he simply toasts bread and scrapes it with garlic. “It is magic,” Brioza insists.
OK, you might need two tins of ’chovies, according to shop owner Dario Barbone of Alimentari Aurora. He has five shelves stacked at the deli, and a monthly tinned fish subscription. The most extravagant is El Capricho ($35 a tin!), from the same region of Spain, and it always sells out. “It almost tastes like cheese,” Barbone says. “It’s life-changing. It disintegrates on your tongue. There’s a little bit of meatiness but it goes away. It’s superbly umami.” As an Italian, he’s a purist and eschews bread, except to sop up every last dreg of leftover oil! And he’s partial to an orange wine from neighbor Ruby, if not a clean pilsner.
Brioza also snacks on sardines at home, especially those from Gueya Mar in Asturias, west along the coast in Spain. Those come as loins or tails, and they’re chargrilled and smoky, and pickled in escabeche. At a friend’s house, he was impressed when she peeled open a tin, topped it with a spoonful of butter, warmed it in a low pan of water and served it melted with crackers. “I was, like, ‘Wow,’” Brioza says. “I always overthink these things.”
Maybe add mussels, chef Ali Hooke recommends. Coming from Andytown, Nopa and Octavia, she’s now a “tinfluencer” (tinned fish influencer), and millions watch her weekly “tinned fish date nights” on TikTok. She and her husband love mussels, especially Fangst from the Limfjord Channel in Denmark, pooled in rapeseed oil with dill and fennel seeds. “There’s a sweetness and deep richness of umami,” Hooke says. “Almost like fish sauce gives you.” She’s a maximalist, tricking out boards with sourdough, pickled onions, avocado, even cheese. And her drink of choice is natural wine (“funk complements funk”), unless you want to go wild with a briny martini.
Barbone is also into squid, and what’s not to love about an entire tentacled creature? He carries a few tins from La Brujula in Galicia, that top corner of Spain, which come in olive oil or black ink, with a few large or half a dozen small tucked tidily inside. Again, the purist likes to taste his calamari, so he snacks from the tin. But he concedes the ink adds richness when stirred into risotto or tossed with pasta.
Fishwife Smoked Rainbow Trout
Hooke is a fangirl of Fishwife in LA, a cool new contender from the West Coast, and “their smoked trout is fantastic.” Sustainably farmed in Idaho, it boasts a clean freshwater flavor and light smoke. She flakes it several ways: dressed in sandwiches, tossed in salads or straight off the board. But if you want to get saucy, she also loves the Fishwife smoked salmon in chile crisp by Fly By Jing.