Addictively Delicious Ati Manel Tinned Garfish in Spiced Olive Oil

It don’t get much more exciting in this biz than when you get to try an entirely new species. I got a tin of Ati Manel brand garfish in spiced olive oil for Christmas and now is the time to break it out. If you have dipped your toes into the Tinned Fish Craze, you probably have seen these artfully-designed boxes of sardines, tuna, shellfish, and picas…better known as garfish in English.

What are Garfish?

There are three species of garfish within the genus Belone which are also known as needlefish. They are a very distinctive looking fish, with a long skinny body and a long needle-like mouth, hence the name. In Portuguese they are known as picas or peixe agulha. Americans might find the name confusing since there is an unrelated family of fish known as gars that are popular sport fish.

The garfish used as food are not targeted, they are by-catch of the European mackerel fisheries. They follow a similar migratory pattern and are often caught alongside mackerel. Garfish could be considered an underutilized species since there isn’t a large market for these otherwise good-tasting and apparently abundant fish. The problem may have to do with their bones: Garfish bones contain a harmless chemical that turns them green.

About Ati Manel

The company that tinned my garfish is the rebirth of the original Ati Manel, an older, popular Portuguese canning company. Artist/designer Luís Mendonça is the great-grandson of Ati Manel, but was sixty years too late to experience his family legacy. The original company went out of business in the 1950s, but the family held onto the vintage marketing and design materials. Mr. Mendonça was inspired to resurrect both the classic designs, but also his family’s commitment to quality tinned seafood.

The modern company is a creation of Luís Mendonça and Adriano Ribeiro, who also created the well-known Jose Gourmet cannery, also in Portugal. They certainly fooled me, I assumed that this was a long-established Portuguese cannery, not tinned fish rock stars. Their website speaks to the importance of bringing back what made the original company and its products so popular. Much of having to do with the close relationships needed between harvester and producer.

This is actually my second tin of Ati Manel to try as I recently tried their Small Scallops in Caldeirada sauce. I thought they tasted pretty good, but I should have warmed the tin to get the most flavor from the sauce. It was a late-night snack, so I will have to get another tin to properly review, but good first impressions.

The Packaging and Product

These days cool artwork is expected on tins of imported conservas and Ati Manel delivers. The artwork on each box is based upon Ati Manel’s vintage European advertising of the mid-20th century. They are of that timeless aesthetic that reminds me of old ocean liner posters or classic ads for Italian coffee. In real life I’m a Maritime Historian, not an art historian, so I’m not sure if the box art falls within Art Deco or Mid-Century Modern, but I do know what I like.

Ati Manel garfish open tin

Within the tin itself were the thin, silvery garfish, neatly packed in a zesty looking olive oil. The fish itself were in good condition and not too tightly packed. I noticed that the garfish are very firm, but also delicate. It is easy to mess up the skin if they are handled too much, but they won’t fall apart into mush.

tinned garfish on plate

I tasted a garfish on its own and it was somewhere between an anchovy and a sardine, but probably more on the anchovy side. They are firm, skinny and salty, with a better mouthfeel than a sardine. I wasn’t sure if I liked them on first taste but just like anchovies, I kept coming back for another bite “just to make sure.” It’s probably the salty factor combines with the spicy oil, but I found the taste quite addictive and i could’ve easily ate the tin right there.

Ati Manel tinned garfish

I put pieces of garfish on gluten-free Wasa crispbread, which I also find addicting, along with some banana pepper slices. This was pretty tasty, and much better than my attempt to combine the fish with a piece of salami. Hands down the best version though, was to eat them out of the tin with a fork along with half a soft kaiser roll for dipping in the oil. That was fantastically yummy and a potential crowd pleasing appetizer.

The Verdict on Ati Manel Tinned Garfish

That was a fun adventure and definitely one of my favorite tinned fish experiences so far. If you like anchovies, especially if you find yourself snacking on them, garfish are made for you. If you prefer sardines, but are looking to branch out, these tinned garfish in spiced oil are just different enough to be fun. I don’t like sardines, but I really like these garfish and I’m looking forward to sampling much more from Ati Manel.