The last time I delved into the world of conservas – aka canned and preserved seafood, it was a mixed bag. For one, I’m just not a huge fan of the canned sardines I’ve tried. Then again I wasn’t a huge fan of the fresh sardines (pilchards) I tried many years ago in France’s Ile de Noirmoutier. Maybe it’s not the product…maybe it was me! But the world of preserved seafood is no longer a secret here in the US. Not exactly mainstream yet, but conservas are showing up on menus, cooking shows and specialty shops. Even the use of the term conservas has become a US English loanword for high quality canned seafood…sort of like how we all started using charcuterie for any plate of cold cuts.
I had no choice but to try again, especially after I fell down a recent YouTube hole about tapas in Spain. All those little servings of clams, mussels and octopus in oil or sauce reminded me of my travels and how much I loved those types of tapas and pintxos. It was time to give conservas another chance, but this time no sardines or other fish, I wanted to sample canned shellfish.
This new attempt started at my local supermarket where I picked up these two items:
Goya Jumbo Squid in Garlic Sauce
These were delicious, tender but not mushy pieces of squid in a mildly spicy and garlic oil sauce. I ate them with a toothpick and a couple slices of toasted scala bread from Virgilio’s in Gloucester. That sauce was definitely worth soaking up with that bread after I ate the squid. I liked these so much that they might become a regular item when I shop.
Cole’s Smoked Mussels in Olive Oil
Cole’s is a brand out of Rhode Island that I’ve recently spotted at the supermarket. According to their website, they are a fairly new company, founded in 2008 and thanks in part to a relationship with Geomar, they source all their seafood from the Patagonia region of South America as well as the Cape Verde Islands. I like the look of their packaging and I also like how they tell you straight out what you are getting. In this case they are using farmed mussels from Chile.
Bottom line, these smoked mussels were pretty good. I liked the light smokey flavor that didn’t overpower the mussels and the olive oil was worth a couple dunks with my wife’s fresh baked bread. I ate the whole tin as a snack, but it would have been better shared and/or accompanied by something bright like picked vegetables. The only thing I didn’t like is that they were on the tender side – not mushy, but maybe a little too soft for toothpicks.
I’m spoiled in that I have a local source of excellent smoked mussels, but these would certainly work if I couldn’t get them. Put them on some crackers or crusty bread, maybe with a smear of cream cheese and dill. Or incorporate them into tapas or a more complex appetizer.
As I was sampling these various conservas my imagination ran wild with ideas for tapas – combining the shellfish and delicious sauces with crusty bread, stuffed olives, pickled peppers and cherry tomatoes. What a great way to add a ton of variety without spending a fortune or a lot of time.
Now I decided to be a little more adventurous and get some of those yummy looking tins from Spain and Portugal. There are many places online, including Amazon where you can get conservas. But I noticed that prices and availability fluctuate, that is until I found The Tapas Market on Instagram.
The Tapas Market – Canned Seafood Online
The Tapas Market expanded their family-run business in 2020 to offer Spanish conservas throughout the US. They offer an impressive list of top brands of conservas at very reasonable prices. Their flat rate shipping and free shipping for orders over $55 sealed the deal – many places charge a lot for shipping if under $100, if they ship to the US at all. For my first order I got four tins of different conservas:
- Espinaler Scallops in Galician Sauce
- Espinaler Baby Squid in Olive Oil
- Matiz Wild Pulpo Octopus in Olive Oil
- Pepus Surimi Elvers (Gulas) in Garlic Sauce
I decided to go with the scallops and the gulas to start. They would be part of a larger tapas/pintxos spread after getting some ideas online. The octopus I’ll probably have right out of the tin with some bread, but the baby squid (chirpirones) intrigue me the most and I might save them for a rice dish, a paella or risotto possibly.
Espinaler Scallops in Galician Sauce
I love the classic look of the Espinaler box, there is something about it that makes me think I’m getting something special. Well, once I opened up that tin of scallops I knew I was in for something good. Here were these tiny scallops coated in a red, zesty, and oily sauce that was delicious and just a little different. I am a big fan of these scallops and the sauce and will order them again. They pack a lot of flavor in such a tiny tin.
A tin of these Espinaler scallops in Galician sauce could have lots of potential as an ingredient in various seafood dishes. However, I think they shine best as the main attraction, placed on a piece of thick crusty bread to soak up that sauce. As far as tapas, it don’t get any easier, but is sure to please your guests. Another tapas/pintxos option would be to use cubes of crusty bread and use a toothpick to skewer a couple scallops and drizzle with some of the sauce.
Pepus Surimi Elvers (Gulas) in Garlic Sauce
I don’t think I could ever get myself to eat real angulas – baby eels. Not that I could afford it anyway, a single serving is hundreds of dollars. Eel populations are struggling, there is high demand, we know very little about their reproductive cycle, and they can’t be farmed – only ranched. Hell, I feel guilty enough that I love eating adult eel, harvesting them before they have even the slightest chance of continuing their species seems wrong on another level.
The gulas were…just OK. Out of the tin they tasted fine, like surimi, the garlic sauce was pretty unnoticeable. I found that the oiliness and slight fishiness needed something bright, so I made a couple of pintxos of gulas, one with picked vegetables and the other with a big stuffed olive on thick toasted bread. It made a big improvement in my opinion but if real angulas taste like that, I think your money is better spent elsewhere and let the elvers grow up. I didn’t hate it and I would try them in a hot dish if I try them again
Second Opinion On Tinned Seafood
This was a much better experience than my last post about canned/tinned seafood. These conservas were by and large, very good and I’m looking forward to trying the rest. Besides tuna, I now think I should just stick to shellfish conservas and maybe dabble in smoked fish…oh and I should probably try mackerel too. Using The Tapas Market also made it easier to see various brands of conservas that would be hard to track down otherwise. If you are an aficionado, or like me, are just getting started in exploring conservas, check out their website.