Tins have always been useful, but only recently have they become desirable. Yes, now you can find top-quality gourmet food — everything from lobster to duck — in a can.
And the cans are seriously stylish. As a committed foodie, I confess to showing mine off in a special section of my larder with a fluted window.
Tins are also being hailed as a solution to food waste, with Waitrose advising shoppers to plan at least one meal a week using tinned food. And if you’re stuck for ideas, chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book, Shelf Love, advises on how to make top-notch meals using canned products and store-cupboard essentials.
Waitrose is advising shoppers to plan at least one meal a week using tinned food. The 3 most popular tins found in UK homes are tomatoes, baked beans and soup
I’ll admit my memories of tinned food centre around terrible ravioli in tomato sauce, produced by a mother at the end of her tether. While the three most popular tins found in UK homes remain, unsurprisingly, tomatoes, baked beans and soup, there is so much choice now, from tasty quick fixes to truly gourmet offerings. So, which should you stash in your pantry?
Rockfish Lyme Bay Mussels Escabeche, £5.95 for 115g, therockfish.co.uk
You get about 16 small mussels, ropegrown in Lyme Bay on the South Coast. They are steamed, fried and preserved in an ‘escabeche’ marinade of sunflower oil, wine vinegar, spices and salt
WHAT IS IT? Chef Mitch Tonks’s newly launched Rockfish brand raises tinned British seafood to an art form, as practised in Spain, France and Italy.
You get about 16 small mussels, ropegrown in Lyme Bay on the South Coast. They are steamed, fried and preserved in an ‘escabeche’ marinade of sunflower oil, wine vinegar, spices and salt. Adventurous souls will like Rockfish’s dramatic black Brixham Cuttlefish, too.
TASTE TEST The mussels are small, plump and juicy and the escabeche has beautifully balanced acidity, with a fruity tanginess. They taste as if someone made them to order. Very moreish eaten from the tin with crusty bread to mop up the juices. 10/10
DORDOGNE IN A TIN
Empire Bespoke Foods Duck Confit, £13.80 for 765g, waitrose.com
Sudi said that the duck legs turned properly crisp and tasted ‘scrumptious’. She paried them with Mr Organic haricot beans
WHAT IS IT? Three slowcooked duck legs in duck fat and salt. The contents require heating in a hot oven for half an hour until the skin is crisp. For a true meal, I mixed in a tin of Mr Organic haricot beans for the last ten minutes, or you could add parboiled potatoes.
TASTE TEST The duck legs turned properly crisp and tasted scrumptious, transporting me to a warmly remembered holiday in the Dordogne. This is seriously impressive and worth the admittedly high price. It would serve three comfortably, four at a pinch, with plenty of tinned beans and a crisp green salad. And there is plenty of duck fat left to make a further confit dish or wickedly crunchy roasties. 10/10
Organic broccoli friarielli by Casa Marrazzo, £4.20 for 390g, souschef.co.uk
WHAT IS IT? An ingredient loved throughout Italy, these slender broccoli stems are preserved in oil, with a hint of chilli and garlic. The stems are known as friarielli in Naples and Campania, rapini in Tuscany and Puglia, while in Rome they are called broccoletti.
TASTE TEST Broccoli in a tin sounds unappetising but although these look rather unappealingly soggy, the friarielli are far more delicious than any childhood veggie in tins you may remember. The firm stems have a distinctive, slightly bitter taste.
Serve as a vegetable side dish heated with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice and rind — or scatter on pizza with spicy sausage. 7/10
TASTE OF THE TROPICS
Laila Mango Pulp, £1.75 for 850g, tesco.com
The tin is a good size and Sudi suggests to blend with yoghurt, milk and ice for a delicious treat similar to the Indian drink lassi
WHAT IS IT? 90pc mango pulp with sugar and water. A chef’s trick for ripe mango even in winter.
TASTE TEST This looks rather viscous and syrupy, and is a little sweet for my taste. Still, it has a reasonably aromatic fragrance and a rich taste comparable with fresh, if not the very best, mango. It’s also far easier to use. However, I was disappointed to find it contains mango flavour-enhancer.
The tin is a good size. Blend with yoghurt, milk and ice for a delicious treat similar to the Indian drink lassi.
Or — as it’s already sweetened — simply freeze it for a great soft, scoopable mango sorbet. 4/10
Bonilla A La Vista Spanish Crisps, £24.95 for 500g, fortnumandmason.com
These crisps have been produced in Spain for over 80 years by the same family and are made from thinly sliced, organic potatoes
WHAT IS IT? These crisps — yes, in a tin, which is supposed to keep them crisper for longer — have been produced in Spain for over 80 years by the same family. They are made from thinly sliced, organic potatoes cooked in extravirgin olive oil and a touch of sea salt.
TASTE TEST Look, they are ridiculously expensive. But they genuinely are light as air, and crunchy with no hint of greasiness. If you try them, share only with special friends. 10/10 (if you can ignore the price)
Baba ghanoush by Cortas, £1.99 for 380g, sousfood.com
WHAT IS IT? Baba ghanoush made with aubergines grilled whole until the skin crackles, lending a hint of smoky flavour. The soft aubergine is scooped out and blended with tahini to make a rich puree.
TASTE TEST This baba ghanoush tastes authentically smoky. It’s really exceptionally good and great value — excellent for those of us who now have an induction hob and can no longer smoke aubergines over a gas flame. It is delicious straight out of the can — though to make it into an outstanding mezze dish, mix with a little lemon juice and zest, fresh crushed garlic, sea salt, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil to taste.
Scoop up with warm flatbreads as a light lunch or a starter. 9/10
LOBSTER IN A CAN
Lobster Bisque, La Belle Iloise, £10.50 for 400g, culverandnelson.com
There may be less than 10 per cent lobster in this bisque but it is full of langoustines, brandy, and a dash of curry
WHAT IS IT? There is less than 10 per cent lobster in this bisque but it’s also packed with langoustines, brandy, a dash of curry and plenty of tomato, carrot and celery. A tin should serve two for lunch, or four as a starter.
TASTE TEST With the aroma of a proper Breton fish soup, it has a deep yet delicate flavour and a beautiful velvety mouthfeel. Most impressive for a tinned soup. Add saffron aioli and crisp (stale) baguette croutons to make it more substantial. 8/10
ACE OF ANCHOVIES
Ortiz anchovies, £4.95 for 47g, brindisa.com
Sudi says that these anchovies are so good that you can eat them straight from the tin on good bread with fridge-cold butter
WHAT IS IT? These, in their cheery red, blue and yellow tin (pictured), are considered the sine qua non by anchovy connoisseurs.
TASTE TEST Plump, juicy, immensely savoury without being too salty — and incredibly moreish. So good you will want to eat them straight from the tin on good bread with fridge-cold butter and some radishes on the side, or use them as a flavour bomb in many dishes. Stir into hot spaghetti with capers, chilli flakes, garlic and lemon. 9.5/10
QUICK VEGAN TRICK
Banana blossom, £1.12 for 400g, tesco.com
Five segments of banana blossom which, like jackfruit, can be used as a substitute for fish or meat
WHAT IS IT? Five segments of banana blossom which, like jackfruit, can be used as a substitute for fish or meat. It has a rosy colour and separates into long flakes rather like tuna.
TASTE TEST An interesting vegan option and, to my mind, far more tasty than jackfruit — it’s a little bland, tasting rather like palm heart, but has an interesting, slightly fibrous texture. Roasted in a seasoned batter finished with breadcrumbs, it is quite acceptable and certainly good value. A convenient tin stand-by for vegan guests. 5/10
ROYALLY TASTY OLIVES
Gordal pitted olives by Perello, £3.25 for 350g, brindisa.com
WHAT IS IT? Gordal olives are a top Spanish variety with a bright green colour and an almost crunchy texture. These are tinned in brine and guindilla chilli.
TASTE TEST These have a mild kick but the chilli is not too pervasive for a lightweight like me. The texture copes well with the canning process — they’re not mushy at all. Enjoy with cold meats and cheese, or add to salad. 9/10
Sardines Thym Citron et Poivre Vert, La Belle Iloise, £6, culverandnelson.com
These luxe sardines are turned during the preserving process and flavoured with delicate green pepper and lemon thyme
WHAT IS IT? The Conserverie la Belle-Iloise, a family business based in Brittany, has been preserving fine fish for nearly 100 years. These luxe sardines are turned during the preserving process and flavoured with delicate green pepper and lemon thyme.
TASTE TEST Packed with protein and flavour. The olive oil is noticeably high-quality and the fish holds together well without being too firm.
Simply add a squeeze of lemon and scoop onto toast. 8/10