Shelf-stable food items have, needless to say, never been more popular. The bean business, in particular, is booming — according to recent reports, Goya’s sales have increased some 400 percent. But for those whose legume repertoires are beginning to feel a tad stale, it might be worth considering other areas of the canned and tinned universe, many of which are also quickly gaining traction. Anchovies, long the topping “held” from a dish, are taking center stage on Instagram (in sandwiches, on heaps of linguine), and humble canned tuna has shifted from the back of the pantry to front and center. Not to mention the fact that there’s something specifically delightful about eating a perfectly salty, spicy, or sweet item (whether it’s a smoked oyster or a sour cherry) plucked straight from a completely contained package. To find out the tinned, jarred, and canned foods chefs and home cooks are stocking their pantries with, we asked everyone from Ernesto’s Ryan Bartlow, who suggested a tin of splurge-y white asparagus, to Nom Wah’s Julie Cole, who recommended stocking up on Campbell’s Cream of Celery — which she calls “the Ferrari of canned soups.”
Best tinned and jarred fish
Four of the chefs and home cooks we talked to topped their list of tinned goods with Don Bocarte Anchovies. “The creme de la creme of anchovies are Don Bocarte salt cured anchovies packed in olive oil,” says Nialls Fallon, a partner at Hart’s, Cervo’s, and The Fly. “They taste like butter and melt in your mouth — I could drink the oil when I’m done it’s so damn good.” Fallon told us that the anchovies come from the Bay of Biscay and are “painstakingly gutted and fileted by hand, then packed in large barrels in concentric circles with salt added after each layer.” Then they’re aged for several months, and rinsed and packed by hand in Spanish olive oil. Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese is a fan, too, as is Julia Sherman, of Salad for President and Angie Mar, chef at the Beatrice Inn.
Michael Schall, co-owner of Bar Camillo and Locanda Vini e Olii says that his restaurant’s “No. 1 choice” for tinned food are these anchovies from Agostino Recca. “I am just addicted to them, as are a lot of our customers.” (This customer can attest to their addictive qualities.) Schall says the anchovies have a just-right amount of saltiness, and are “big enough to feel substantial if you are eating them by themselves.” But if eating straight anchovies sounds like a lot, Schall says they’re great for cooking, too: “Melt them in the pan with some olive oil and a clove of garlic, toss with freshly cooked spaghetti, and you have one of the best all-time afternoon pasta dishes.” Chef and farmer Phoebe Cole-Smith is a fan of the Agostino Recca anchovies, as well.
“I’ve ate more than my fair share of anchovies — just ask my editor, who has politely tried to explain there are other things to write about— and I don’t think there are any better on the planet than these,” says Grub Street writer Chris Crowley of these sea salt anchovies from Nettuno. “They’re kind of a splurge, but they go a long way: preserved only in sea salt, they’re plump and possibly as close to a hit of pure MSG as you can get.”
Another less-expensive anchovy option comes to us from chef Mia Lillingston, who says “not only is the packaging on Ortiz anchovies so aesthetically pleasing, they’re also good quality, prepared by hand and totally delicious when simply eaten on toasted bread with olive oil.” Lillingston says she’ll also add these to salads or melt them into sauces “for that umami kick.”
Bart van Olphen, sustainable fishing advocate, chef, and author of The Tinned Fish Cookbook, is a fan of Ortiz tinned goods, as well, and told us about these sardines. “I love sardines, but buying the right quality makes the difference between having a great experience or never wanting to eat them again,” he says. “Ortiz is famous for its quality. The cooking process is very particular. The sardines are gutted and then precooked before being trimmed to the size of the can. Cheaper brands only cook the sardines once.”
If clams are more your thing, Sherman told us that these from Cabo de Penas — “I love all the tinned seafood by Cabo de Penas,” she says. “But these are especially good. They are super clean and briny — eat them straight from the can.”
“My favorite splurge is a tin of cockles from Ramon Pena in Spain,” says Fallon. “They’re expensive, but worth it.” Fallon says the cockles, which are tiny clams, are the size of a dime and tear-shaped. The cockles are pricey because of how difficult they are to harvest: “They are hard and dangerous to source, by hand from the rocky coastline, then meticulously and perfectly cooked, removed from their shells, and placed in order in a round tin,” Fallon says. “Their milky white color is surrounded by clear briny salty water — it’s so elegant, and pure and really a treat.”
Nick Perkins, partner at Hart’s, Cervo’s, and The Fly, says that Cabo de Penas is also the go-to brand of tinned fish for his restaurants. “They’re just old school and really solid,” he says. “They also just do really solid sardines and mackerels, which are cost effective.” His favorite are the brand’s baby sardines.
“These are sustainably certified sardines, and beautifully hand-packed with high-quality olive oil,” says Fallon. “A real savory, firm and earthy style.” He told us he’ll go for the classic plain olive oil, or the ones packed with dried chillies.
This pack of sardines comes recommended by Alissa Wagner, co-owner of Dimes (who also told us about her favorite spices). “They’re a great option for both your health and the health of our planet,” she says. “Sustainable and packed with Omega 3’s, these little fish are a great upgrade for simple salads or enjoyed on some grilled bread with roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs.”
Andy Xu, Executive Chef at The Odeon, told us that Bela is his preferred sardine brand: “They’re lightly smoked, so there’s an added depth of flavor,” he says.
Sometimes you just want good old-fashioned canned tuna. Van Olphen suggests trying this tin, which is from a brand founded by one of the families behind the American Albacore Fishing Association. “Their West Coast fishery was the first in the world to obtain a certification for seafood sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council,” says Van Olphen.
“I’m honestly just eating a lot of canned tuna, like Jessica Simpson,” says Bowien of his quarantine meals. “In Korea, canned tuna is such a thing, and you can get it at 711, open it up, and just eat it — especially the kimchi-flavored ones.” Bowien says this tuna from Dong Won is one of his favorites. “I eat it a lot — it’s good quality canned tuna, not fancy — I literally open up the can and dump it on top of hot rice.”
Ryan Bartlow, chef-owner at Ernesto’s, says that when it comes to tuna, this, from Zallo, is an easy favorite. “It’s from Bizkaia, Spain, and is perfect eaten on its own, or doused with a little minced onions, salt, olive oil and espelette,” Bartlow says. “At Ernesto’s we serve them with our Gildas.” He also notes that the stately packaging makes it a great gift for the friend who can never have too much tuna (which, right now, is most every non-vegetarian friend).
Van Olphen told us he believes in the “head-to-tail philosophy” when it comes to fish: “Where we’re not just eating the fillet, but also the cheeks or liver, for example.” He describes these cod livers as “soft” and “elegant” and says they work with lots of different dishes. “One of my very favorite ways is to serve it with some reduced orange juice mixed with a bit of lime and sesame oil, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and pink peppercorn on top,” he says.
“Ever since I was little I’ve loved large smoked oysters or mussels,” says Carolina Santos Neves, executive chef of American Bar. “My pick these days are Reese and Patagonia Provisions for their sustainably sourced Mussels — I’ll eat them plain or on toasted buttered sourdough bread.”
If you want smoked oysters with a bit more zing, Fallon says these Ekone oysters are one of his favorites. “You can have them as a snack with a beer,” he says. “They’re hot! And chewy, and smoky, and really good with mayo or cream cheese on a cracker.”
“The baby squids are prepared by hand — they removed the tentacles and stuff them into the tube of the squid, then hand pack them with a rich tomato ragout sauce,” says Fallon of this spicy option. “Smoky and meaty in flavor and texture, really delicious.” He’s a fan of the baby octopus in olive oil, as well.
Best tinned and canned meats
“I’ll admit that I haven’t had deviled ham spread for a very long time, but one of my favorite sandwiches as a child was this stuff on pepperidge farm white bread with a thin layer of butter,” says Cole-Smith. “I have a few tins of it in my emergency preparedness food kit, because it means I can quickly relive my childhood, using crackers as a vehicle.” Cole-Smith says that in a pinch, “and if you close your eyes,” the deviled ham spread is like “a ‘poor man’s jambon au beurre.’”
Perhaps you prefer pâté. Food writer Ashley Mason says that a can of this pork pâté will have you feeling like you’re enjoying “a lazy afternoon on the French countryside” in no time. “Just add a bottle of wine, a baguette, and some crunchy cornichons,” she says.
Wilson Tang, owner and operator of Nom Wah, says this stew is “always dear to my heart.” Similar to Cole-Smith’s deviled ham, the stew is a bit nostalgic: “When I was a kid, it would be a quick after-school snack that I could mix up by myself when my parents were at work — I’d heat up the can and add it to rice,” Tang says. “It made me feel like a mini chef.” For the “grown-up version” Tang says he’ll throw it in his wok with soy sauce and chili bean paste, and have it with a side of rice.