Tinned fish a tasty catch
When the school year starts, Kraft Dinner and Mr. Noodle see a spike in sales as college and university students cut loose from the comfort of home-cooked meals.
But why deprive precious brains of nutrition when it’s most needed? Why not cook with fish?
Before getting all huffy about lack of fridge and kitchen space as well as the time to shop and cook, let me just say this: Tin Fish Gourmet. It’s a cookbook with easy, imaginative recipes using tinned fish.
The first edition in 1998 was such a hit that author Barbara-Jo McIntosh was approached repeatedly to update it. Oh, all right, she finally said. The updated version has 24 new recipes.
The book comes with a top-tier recommendation.
Michel Roux, who with brother Albert are considered the godfathers of modern British cuisine (having opened the first threeMichelin star restaurants outside of France), calls the book a “minimasterpiece.”
“Tin Fish Gourmet is my thrifty frisson, an indispensable little gem that has rarely left my side,” Roux writes in the book’s foreword.
“The book shows how that seemingly dull tin lurking at the back of your cupboard can be quickly transformed with the addition of a few fresh ingredients, into an uplifting and mouthwatering dish with minimum effort and maximum taste.”
For McIntosh, fish is a recurring theme in her life. She ate a lot of fish and had great hair, she says, when her divorced mother dated a commercial fisherman. Once, she even lived in an apartment above a fish cannery in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a boyfriend. Back in those days, tinned fish cooking meant tuna casserole, salmon loaf and shrimp curry.
In another chapter of her life, a friend in the seafood industry gave her a case of canned salmon and canned tuna for Christmas every year, so she began experimenting with recipes. That’s what led to Tin Fish Gourmet.
“I came by it honestly,” she says. “I certainly ate a lot of fish in my life. I guess once you’re a fish person, it never leaves you.”
Canned fish, she says, isn’t just a retro concept: “Tinned fish is huge in Europe. In Paris, there’s a whole store dedicated to tinned sardines. Spain is big on canned fish, too.”
The added bonus is McIntosh’s charming personality on the pages — you feel her presence, encouraging you to enjoy the cooking process.
“I think of anchovy as the Woody Allen of little fishes — brilliant, but often an uncomfortable feeling surrounds the subject,” she says of the under-loved fish.
“I love both anchovies and Woody Allen’s films, and both deliver strong, complicated and intellectual morsels worth contemplating with pleasure long after their initial impact.”
And if you’re cooking to impress, McIntosh makes it easy to be fancy-schmancy. Salmon coulibiac could be a long and tedious dish to make. But with tinned salmon, Uncle Ben’s wild rice and packaged puff pastry, you earn respect without breaking a sweat.
Other recipes include Creamy Garlic and Clam Chowder; Crab and Goat Cheese Strudel; Oyster Pot Pie; Avocado, Chickpea and Salmon Salad; Sardine, Red Onion and Cambozola Sandwich and for old time’s sake, two tuna casseroles.
And should you still be lured by Kraft Dinner and Mr. Noodles when shopping, McIntosh gets scoldy. “It doesn’t take much to make your own mac and cheese with tuna. Boil the pasta, drain, add fish and grated cheddar cheese. It would be much nicer.”
McIntosh says seniors (who don’t get out for frequent shopping), boaters and cottagers would find the book useful, too: “It’s accessible, you don’t need a large pantry or a large kitchen. Just stack the tinned fish, pull them out as you need them.”
“In high school, one of the first things I learned to make was the classic tuna melt,” says BarbaraJo McIntosh.
“Proudly showing off my culinary achievement at home, I made several and promptly devoured them. It took a while before I could look at a tuna melt again, but this version rekindled my love affair.” 16 oz (454 g) tinned tuna, drained
1 tbsp (15 mL) mayonnaise 1 tsp (5 mL) lemon juice 1/4 cup (60 mL) diced red onions
1/4 cup (60 mL) diced celery
In a medium bowl, combine tuna with mayonnaise, lemon juice, onions, celery, and apples. Season with pepper and combine well.
Slice baguette into 8 pieces about 1/2-in. (1 cm) thick. Cover slices with mixture, then sprinkle each with cheese.
Place rack in top portion of oven and turn on broiler.
Place slices on a cookie sheet and put under broiler for 2 to 3 minutes until warmed through and cheese is bubbly and begins to brown (but don’t let them burn).
Makes 2 to 3 servings
Oyster Pot Pie
“I have always found any kind of pot pie to be comforting, but the oysters in this recipe add a distinctly sensual flavour,” says McIntosh. “I have served this with great success using a sweet potato crust, but you may use your favourite savoury pastry recipe for tantalizing results.”
1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
1 tbsp (15 mL) flour
3/4 cup (185 mL) milk 2 strips bacon, cut into 1/2-in (1-cm) pieces 1 celery stalk, diced
1 medium carrot, diced 1/2 cup (125 mL) oyster mushrooms
1/4 cup (60 mL) dry white wine 1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced green onions 15 oz (420 g) tinned oysters, drained Pastry to cover a 6-in. (15-cm) souffle dish 1 egg, beaten with 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) water, for egg wash Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). In a medium small saucepan on medium-low heat, melt butter. Stir in flour to make a roux. Slowly add milk and stir to make a white sauce that is not too thick. Remove from heat and set aside. In a small frying pan on medium heat, fry bacon until cooked but not crispy. Add celery, carrots and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add wine, reduce a little, then add onions. Combine this mixture with white sauce.
Place oysters in souffle dish. Pour sauce over and fold in to just combine.
Roll pastry to 1/8-in. (3-mm) thickness. Cover filling with pastry and press to edges of dish to seal. Brush pastry with egg wash, poke with a fork about 6 times, and place souffle dish on baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes until crust is golden brown.
Makes 2 servings
The Tin Fish Gourmet by Barbara-Jo McIntosh features easy, delicious meal ideas.