Charming tins of cockles, tiny tins of trout: A wave of canned seafood is hitting LA

You might not think canned seafood is a gastronomic delight, but it’s a long-standing staple in countries like Spain and Portugal (where it’s known as conservas ). These marine treats have now started appearing on LA restaurant menus; places like Silver Lake’s Rápido and new bar DTLA Kippered feature trays of multicolored boxes lined up next to crusty baguettes and tall glasses of fine wine.

“The first thing that’s important to note is that this is not StarKist canned tuna,” said Los Angeles Times food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson.

This canned fish exists on an entirely different plane – it can be grilled, fried or smoked, and it’s often anointed with zesty flavors like tomatoes, piquillo peppers and lemon juice. And it’s not just “fish” as you know it – we’re talking octopus, squid, mussels and a variety of other surprising marine offerings, marinated and sealed in delicate cans.

Peterson theorizes that the boom in local fish goes hand in hand with the rise of natural wine in the city.

“When people drink more wine, it stands to reason that you’ll also need more wine snacks,” Peterson said. “Things like canned fish go wonderfully with wine.”

He speculates that the pandemic also played a part in the change. Peterson says that when people were looking for more stable items and restaurants started selling specialty items, canned fish was swimming off the shelves and into people’s pantries. And part of it may still be there: canned fish can last up to five years on the shelves.

Peterson recognizes a third crucial aspect of ascension: Part of the canned fish embrace comes from a kind of romance.

“Who among us, especially in the last couple of years, hasn’t dreamed of moving to a Mediterranean island and sitting outside playing backgammon with friends and eating canned fish all day?” he said. “It’s kind of a godly lifestyle.”

The founders of Fishwife said no American canned seafood brand “talks about excitement.”

(Courtesy of Stephanie Gonot)

It was this lifestyle that led Becca Millstein – who co-founded the canned fish company Fishwife with her friend Caroline Goldfarb – to take an interest in the hustle.

After a trip to Spain, Millstein became fascinated with the culture around conservas.

“Seeing these gorgeous stores with shelves upon shelves of really exuberant, artful canned seafood packaging…this culture is quite distinct from the canned seafood bastardization that has existed in the United States. “, she said.

Millstein calls Fishwife “a COVID baby.” Indeed, while working from home, Millstein and Goldfarb found themselves eating a lot of canned seafood, and during a myriad of days filled with Zoom calls and general pandemic unease, canned fish was something. exciting thing.

“We basically recognized … that there was no American canned seafood brand that spoke in any way to the excitement we felt around seafood,” Millstein said. They got to work and launched Fishwife in December 2020.

The simple act of opening a can of fish encourages storytelling.

—Lydia Clarke of Kippered

Lydia Clarke, who opened the new tin-centric bar Kippered with Reed Herrick in late April, says the pandemic has also inspired her. Clarke has amassed a menagerie of canned fish through her travels, and during the pandemic she has begun to dive into the collection, basking in the memories each can conjure up.

“The simple act of opening a can of fish encourages storytelling,” Clarke says.

These nights of “tin dinners” inspired Clarke and Herrick to start Kippered. Clarke paints quite the Dionysian picture: people seated at adjacent tables splashing wine, “opening cans,” and exchanging opinions about barnacles (yes, you can actually eat them).

Clarke says the fun part is the constant rotation of new fish and, of course, the introduction of people who may have preconceived ideas about how stinky the food is.

Becca Millstein of Fishwife explains that because of the historical marginalization of American food culture, there is a kind of “countercultural” element to canned fish.

But there’s one conversation she’s tired of having: “I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had where someone tells me they’re one of those ‘weird people’ who like sardines,” she says. “I’m very confident in saying that it’s definitely not weird to like sardines.”

So pop a cork, open a tin can and indulge in a European fantasy – and, while you’re at it, it can’t hurt to work on your game of backgammon.

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