One of the types of food I had most clearly in mind with Ben to Table was amazing tinned seafood -- mostly, but not entirely -- Spanish conservas.
There's a few reasons for that. Tops among them are:
- I think they can be *extremely* delicious, just wondrous straight out of a can
- They're underappreciated in the US, where the idea of "tinned seafood" summons for most of us a sad can of tuna or sardines from our childhood
- What does most frequently make its way to the US seem more standard -- excellent tuna, anchovies, sardines, and mackerel -- and I especially enjoy some of the lesser-seen items like scallops, octopus, clams, razor clams, and finned fish like sturgeon. Though some more exceptional tuna and sardines are on their way to Ben to Table, too.
- Honestly, it’s having a bit of a moment! There are now more than a few “natural wine + tinned seafood” spots I’ve seen around, especially in your San Franciscos (Verjus), Brooklyns (Rhodora), and Chicagos (Middle Brow Bungalow)— I’m hoping that we can help these small producers gain more of a foothold.
The art of conserving fish in a can as practiced best in Spain and also occasionally elsewhere is truly a thing of beauty, We're carrying a few of the top brands I can find anywhere, all of which are committed to sustainable practices and work directly with local fishers and craftspeople: Conservas de Cambados, El Capricho, Espinaler, Les Mouettes D'Arvor, Iasa, and Ramón Peña.
The only French producer I have on that list is Les Mouettes D'Arvor. Their sardines are a bit different than the Spanish style, and require a bit of prep, but coming as they do packed with butter and sea salt, I just find them irresistible, and I've been able to consistently win over people who "don't like sardines" by breaking these out.
And the only Italian producer is Iasa — they've been producing high-quality seafood for generations, and they remain the sole high-quality Italian company doing it all by hand.
Most of the Spanish conservas come with one of three preparations: done simply in seawater and packed in brine, poached and packed in oil, or cooked and packed in a sauce. We’ve got several examples of each — and all have their place. When I’m opening some cans with friends for appetizers with wine, I’ll usually try and vary across preparations, as well as types of seafood.
For instance, if I’m opening some clams or cockles in brine, I might also do sturgeon or octopus in oil, or the scallops in sauce. And no matter what, the other contents of the tins can be repurposed. The brine can be used for a cocktail, of course, and the oil or sauces can be mopped up with bread. But you can also repurpose the sauces, depending on the specific flavors, to top something else — most clearly, pasta or risotto?
And one customer sent in a photo where he tossed an orochiette with the brine from the Espinaler cockles and the sauce from the Ramón Peña scallops, plus some butter, before adding in the scallops and cockles themselves. Decadent? Yes. But also amazing.
While not an everyday treat, I hope you’ll work some tinned seafood into an upcoming order, and give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed.
Check out the Conservas page for all our offerings, or a few of the bundles below can get you started: