Some of the best fish comes in cans
Ortiz ventresca, the belly of the tuna.
King Oscar brisling sardines.
Ortiz Spanish tuna.
Italian Callipo tuna.
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When it comes to tuna and sardines in cans, I'm a fussbudget.
I want my tuna to be pinkish, not white or dry; ideally in one, large, moist piece; and firmly packed in a pleasant. unobtrusive oil. If I find a can of ventresca, the belly of the tuna, an exceptionally delicate and flavorful cut, I grab it.
Sardines should be large and intact when teased apart, with more of them than I expect to get maneuvered into one container.
It's not easy to find all these qualifications in one little tin. So, I'm often on a fishing expedition, looking for the next best thing. Which makes me a fickle fussbudget, I guess.
Right this minute, I'm enjoying Ortiz, the tender loins of Spanish line-caught yellowfin tuna. The brand is hard to find here but can be ordered at rapososgourmet.com or elsewhere online. Other prime choices are Portuguese As do Mar and Italian Flott or Callipo, all at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District. A different but also delicious style is American Tuna from the Pacific coast. It's cooked in its own juices and is available at Whole Foods Market.
My current favorite sardines are Bela brand from Portugal, found at Whole Foods. Also there are Wild Planet Pacific Ocean sardines, good but a bit too salty for my taste. I sometimes reach for Bonavita brand, also Portuguese, and brisling sardines, usually from Norway, found in many places.
Whatever effort is needed to hunt down these cans is worth it to me, and I've collected a folder of delicious recipes over the years. Here are some to whet your appetite.
2 3 3/4-ounce cans sardines in oil, drained
2 1/2 ounces cream or Neufchatel cheese
2 shallots or a small onion, minced, rinsed, patted dry
1 or 2 scallions minus green tops, halved and thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (chives, cilantro, parsley and/or dill)
Pinch of piment d'Espelette or cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
If your sardines have bones, tails and fins, remove them.
Put the cheese in a bowl and use a rubber spatula to work it until smooth. Add everything but sardines and some citrus juice. Add sardines; switch to a fork to mash and stir mixture. Taste for salt, pepper, juice.
Scrape rillettes into a bowl and press plastic wrap against surface. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. It keeps for 2 days; stir before serving.
Spread on Triscuits, toasted country bread, crackers, Pringles, or use as filling for cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, tiny roasted peppers (piquillos or peppadews). Slivers of vinegary cornichons or capers are good additions.
-- "Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. 2010, $40)
PEPERONI E TONNO (Tuna-Stuffed Pepper Rolls)
4-ounce can tuna, drained (save oil if it's delicious and use elsewhere)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 teaspoons finely chopped celery
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon capers, drained and roughly chopped
1/3 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
Salt and black pepper
4 jarred fire-roasted red peppers, drained
Extra-virgin olive oil
Finely chopped Italian parsley
Freshly cracked black pepper
In a small bowl, mix tuna with mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice, capers and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place a drained pepper on a small piece of plastic wrap and carefully make a vertical incision on 1 side, most easily done with scissors; gently open the pepper to lay it flat. Spread a heaping tablespoon of tuna filling in a thin line down the middle of the pepper, leaving enough space for the pepper to wrap completely around the filling.
Using the plastic wrap as a guide, roll the pepper around the filling. Twist both ends of the wrap to tighten the roll. Repeat with remaining peppers. Place peppers in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Remove peppers from freezer. Remove wrap and, using a serrated knife, slice the peppers into thin rounds, arrange on a plate and return to room temperature.
Drizzle with oil. Garnish with parsley and pepper. Serve as an appetizer.
Serves 4 to 6.
-- Adapted from Jordan Wallace, Pizzeria Locale, Boulder, Colo., on TastingTable.com
SARDINE AND WATERCRESS SALAD WITH SHREDDED POTATO CAKE
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon water
1/2-pound russet baking potato
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Leaves of a small bunch of watercress, rinsed, spun dry (about 3 cups)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, separated into rings, soaked in ice water to cover for 30 minutes
33/4-ounce can brisling sardines in oil, drained well
Make the dressing in a small bowl: whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper to taste; add oil in a stream, whisking; whisk in water.
Peel the potato, grate it coarsely, squeeze between several thicknesses of paper towels to blot excess moisture.
In a 6-inch non-stick skillet, heat half the butter over moderate heat until the foam subsides.
Add half the potato, tamping it down with a spatula, and cook the cake, shaking the skillet frequently to keep the potato from sticking, for 6 minutes, or until the underside is golden and crisp Turn the cake and cook for 6 minutes more, then remove to a plate. Make a second cake the same way. In a bowl toss the watercress with 3 tablespoons of dressing and spoon remaining dressing around the cakes. Arrange well drained onion, watercress and sardines decoratively on the cakes. Serves 2.
-- "Gourmet" magazine, April 1992
PAN BAGNAT: LE FRENCH TUNA SALAD SANDWICH
1/2 crusty French baguette
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing (I use oil from the can if using really good tuna)
1 garlic clove, cut in half
4 to 6 fresh basil leaves
6 ounces canned tuna
3/4 cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted and slices
1/2 cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
8 1/2 ounces canned or jarred artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/4 cup blanched French beans, sliced into thirds
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Halve the baguette lengthwise. Pull out some of the insides of the bottom half to make a trough. Brush both sides with a little oil, rub with garlic. Line trough with basil.
In a bowl, combine tuna and vegetables. Whisk lemon juice with 6 tablespoons oil. Pour this vinaigrette over the tuna mixture and gently combine. Salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon tuna salad on top of basil, cover with the top of baguette. Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic, put on a plate, weight with a brick or cast iron skillet. Refrigerate overnight.
-- Adapted from Waverly's recipe in "The Food 52 Cookbook Volume 2" by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and the Food52 Community (Morrow, 2012)
TUNA STUFFED PEPPERS
2 slices white bread, torn into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup milk
7 3/4-ounce can of tuna
3 green peppers, halved vertically, seeded and trimmed
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
12 oil-cured black olives, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
3 or 4 sprigs parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Tomato juice (optional)
Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
Soak bread in milk for 10 minutes; drain and lightly squeeze.
Drain and save the oil from the tuna. In 2 tablespoons of this oil, saute peppers, skin side down, for 2 or 3 minutes. Cool.
Flake tuna and mix with bread, tomato, olives, capers, parsley, ground pepper and salt, if needed. Fill pepper halves with this mixture and arrange in a lightly oiled baking dish.
Drizzle peppers with any remaining oil or tomato juice.
Bake for 50 minutes.
Serve hot or (preferably) cold as a first course, antipasto selection or light lunch.
-- Adapted from "Cooking With the Groundhog" by Elaine Light (1958)
TOASTED SARDINE SANDWICH
Esquire Cookbook (1955) was in Jim Hanst's trousseau. This is the first way I tasted sardines, and I've been enjoying them this way ever since.
Use French bread, cut lengthwise in slices about 6 inches long, 1/2 inch thick. Toast to a light brown on one side. Now place the slices, untoasted side up, in a flameproof dish. Place oil sardines on the bread until covered, the bread nicely saturated with oil. Run the sandwiches under the broiler for 3 minutes, remove and spread heavily with good mayonnaise. Serve immediately -- a charming, light repast to wash down with a glass of cool, dry, white wine.
First Published March 14, 2013 12:00 am