Trying Tinned Fish

I have a strange new interest, and if you couldn’t tell from the title, it’s tinned fish. Trust me when I say I had zero interest in tinned fish until recently, when I somehow stumbled upon TinnedFishTok, which is just like a section of TikTok in which enthusiastic tinned fish enjoyers post about their new finds and experiences trying stuff. They influenced me into trying some for myself. Namely, this one girl I follow named @daywithmei. Her “Tinned Fish Talk” series inspired me to get some tinned fish and give them a whirl.

I wasn’t sure where to start, or rather with what type of fish. Should I just go to Walmart and buy sardines in a can? I felt like I wanted something more curated than that. I thought maybe I should try one of the subscription boxes daywithmei posted about, especially since she had a discount code for them, but what if I hated them and forgot to cancel and then got more fish? It seemed like that was jumping too far into the deep end for a first-timer.

Thankfully, I found a variety box curated by Bespoke Post. It came with six tins to try, which seemed like a good amount.

Six packages of tinned fish. They're put into two rows of three. The boxes vary between rectangular (three of them) and square (the other three).

We’ve got:

Lightly Smoked Sardines in Spanish Olive Oil by Matiz

Mackerel in Olive Oil by Siesta Co.

Wild White Albacore Tuna in Garden Herb Pesto by Scout Canning

Chorizo Spiced Mussels by Tiny Fish Co.

Enoki Mushroom Snow Crab by Seed to Surf

Sardines with Preserved Lemon by Fishwife

Quite the lineup! Two types of sardines, mackerel, tuna, mussels, and plant-based crab. Definitely some interesting ones in there.

I enlisted the help of my dad, who suggested we start with one type of sardine and end with the other type since there were two. I thought that was a great idea, and picked Matiz’s lightly smoked sardines first.

The box says these sardines were wild caught in the eastern Atlantic and hand packed in Galicia. The box also claimed that they’re considered one of the finest sardines available. When we tried to get a filet out of the tin, it fell apart, so it was clearly pretty tender. I put a small amount on a Saltine.

A small portion of sardine atop a Saltine cracker. The piece of sardine has silvery and black skin.

I felt kind of strange eating fish with the skin still on, but it ended up being very mild in flavor. It mostly just tasted like white fish, which I like, so it was pretty good. An inoffensive start to our tinned fish trials.

Stepping it up a notch, I picked the Chorizo Spiced Mussels:

A circular tin full of mussels in a dark, brownish liquid.

The box for the mussels said they were farm raised in the waters of the Pacific Coast. The first thing I noticed, other than the pack-a-punch flavor, was that these mussels weren’t rubbery at all. They had a really good texture for a mussel, and I actually love mussels so I was excited to try these. They were really interesting!

Switching back to fish, the mackerel was next:

A rectangular tin full of oil and some large filets of mackerel.

I can’t say I’ve ever had mackerel before this, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The filets were quite large, and made for a substantial bite. It was flavorful without being overwhelming, and basically just tasted like a better version of tuna. Like this would make an awesome tuna salad if you replaced the tuna with it. It was good!

Finally we tried the one I was most curious about. The mushroom crab:

A circular tin filled with super small and slim beige mushrooms in a briny liquid.

These definitely did not look super appetizing, but much to my surprise they smelled exactly like crab. Plant based seafood is a really interesting concept, so I was excited to give it a go. These mushrooms were seriously flavorful, but it’s hard to describe what exactly they tasted like. They had a strange sweetness to them, which actually reminded me of how crab meat tends to have a sweet flavor. They were kind of slimy. I kept going back for more, unlike with everything else we’d tried so far.

We ended up finishing off this entire tin once we started putting heaps of it on Saltines. It was so strange and weirdly good. I would definitely try this company’s other plant based seafood, which is their Celery Root Whitefish.

Another one I was excited for was the albacore tuna in the pesto sauce, because I love pesto:

A circular tin filled with a chunk of tuna submerged in gross looking green liquid.

This looked SO icky to me. For some reason it was one big chunk, so it was kind of hard to get apart for a bite. The tuna was dry, which was like, how do you manage that when it’s literally in liquid. The pesto was fine, overall it was adequate but definitely the biggest disappointment of the tinned fish. I found this particularly unfortunate because the company, Scout Canning, is part of 1% For the Planet, which means that they donate 1% of their annual revenue to environmental protection causes. Also, this tuna was line and pole caught, rather than caught with fishing nets, so like that’s awesome too! It was caught in the strait of Juan de Fuca, which is off the Northwest Pacific coast. I really like their business practices so it’s unfortunate to me that this fish was just kind of meh, and the least liked in the box.

Finally, the other sardines by Fishwife:

A rectangular tin with three sizeable sardine filets in it.

I guess I always assumed that sardines were tiny, but these were really big sardine filets! The box says they’re packed in Spanish olive oil with preserved lemon, and they were in fact pretty lemony, so no lie there. Again, the sardines were good, but nothing mind blowing. Of course, this is all just based on us eating them straight out of the tin, or putting them on a Saltine. I’m sure these could be really good if you did something with them rather than just eat them plain.

So, overall thoughts on the variety box: Pretty positive! It was fun to try new things, and most everything was rather satisfactory. It was nice to try a variety of things without trying anything too wild. One thing I was interested in when it came to this endeavor was cost. How expensive is tinned fish? Was I getting a good price for this variety box?

The variety box was $49, and after taxes and shipping came out to $57.86 total. So I decided to look up the cost of the individual tins they included. One thing I noticed with these tinned fish companies is that some of them sell their tins only in three packs, and you aren’t really able to buy just one tin from them. So right off the bat I do think that this box is beneficial for that reason.

Anyways, here’s what I’ve discovered!

Matiz Lightly Smoked Sardines– $4.19 a tin

Tiny Fish Co. Chorizo Spiced Mussels– $14

Siesta Co. Mackerel– $24.95 for a 3 pack, so about $8.32 per tin

Seed to Surf Enoki Mushroom Snow Crab– $30 for a 3 pack, so $10 a tin

Scout Canning Wild White Albacore Tuna– Sadly, I couldn’t find this one on their website, but here’s their other tinned fish, which varies in cost based on the type of fish. I would imagine the cost of the tuna would be close to the cost of the rainbow trout, which is $23.99 for a 3 pack, so we’ll guess-timate that the tuna was probably about $8 a tin

Fishwife Sardines with Preserved Lemon– $32 for a 3 pack, so almost $11 a tin

So if you add up the cost of each tin individually, which again some of them aren’t available individually, you get $55.51. Then I probably would’ve had to get individual shipping and taxes on each. So I actually think this box was a good idea! I’m glad I went with this box, and I would definitely recommend it if you are also interested in trying some interesting tinned fish for no real reason.

Anyways, thanks for coming along on this tinned fish adventure with me! I think I’ll explore this further.

Which one looked the best to you? Would you try plant based seafood? Do you absolutely hate seafood? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


43 Comments on “Trying Tinned Fish”

  1. I’m a big fan of tinned seafood. I would suggest trying smoked oysters and sardines in mustard for a bigger flavor punch. Good on y’all for trying it!

  2. I’ve dived back into tinned seafood recently (loved the treat of sharing smoked oysters with my parents growing up). If you have one near you, Trader Joe’s has a great affordable selection of options. I especially recommend the lightly smoked salmon, lightly smoked mussels and crown prince smoked oysters in olive oil.

  3. I’m a big fan of tinned fish, and all of the companies that you got in that box practice sustainable fishing. Most of them are small companies, so that’s a bonus, too. I absolutely adore Fishwife’s products, and can also recommend a couple of other companies whose tinned fish is sublime: Jose Gourmet has some really wonderful options, and Siesta Fisheries.

  4. I’m a new tinged fish convert. I’m a big fan of Fishwife. I’ve tried quite a few others, mostly at the recommendation of the Tin to Table cookbook.

  5. Island Creek Oysters has an excellent selection of tinned fish, if you are looking for more variety. Scallops in vieira sauce are a personal favorite.

  6. If you can find them, Riga Gold Smoked Sprats and Brunswick Kippered Sardines are really good. Highly recommended if you are a fan of the smoked kind.

  7. I’ve never liked seafood at all, and I don’t like mushrooms either, but that mushroom crab looks intriguing. I might actually try it if I come across that

  8. WRT sardines: add a tiny dab of mustard to the cracker.
    WRT mackerel: mackerel salad: mackerel, pickle relish, onion, shallot or scallion (to taste), and maybe mayo. I find the oil clinging to the fish to be sufficient lubricant but YMMV. Capers or other seasoning as desired.
    This sort of thing was a common Sunday supper in my childhood, along with leftovers. Now I’m going to make mackerel salad for lunch.

  9. Interesting stuff. I’ve been reading about tinned fish, and now I might give it a try. Thanks!

  10. Matiz products are out go-to for tinned fish/seafood. Their mussels make a great seafood pasta (with tomatoes and capers!), and their cod is a good alternate to tuna salad.

  11. Great review; I appreciate all the detail. I love that more people are discovering the deliciousness and convenience of tinned fish!

    Supermarket standby King Oscar has some sardines with jalapeños that are excellent. Seconding the recommendation of Island Creek Oysters products—pricey, but outstanding quality.

    If you like Japanese flavors, there are a couple of brands that do a mackerel in white miso, which is a great combination—really rich, full flavors.

    And kudos for steering your dad away from burritofying any of these!

  12. I love nearly all varieties of King Oscar sardines, especially the Mediterranean style. Tinned kippered herring is wonderful too.

  13. Nice review, Athena. I took to making sardine opn faced sandwiches (I think the French term is tartine) after seeing a recipe in Dinner in French by Melissa Clark. Hey involve toasted baguettes rubbed with garlic and tomatoes, lay some fish down, top with thinly sliced shallots, olive oil and sea salt. They are perfect for a summer evening. I’m interested in trying the mushroom crab, since my sister can’t eat crustaceans, and the mackerel.

  14. I grew up eating sardine sandwiches with my dad, and always really enjoyed them. My spouse and I generally keep a pretty decent assortment of tinned fish in the pantry, and we both enjoy snacking on it. I don’t think we’ve tried those brands and varieties (we’re pretty cheap and tend to go for the lowest-cost options) but those look like they’d be terrific for a special occasion.

    Very nice write-up, Athena! Thanks for sharing!

  15. I occasionally eat tinned sardines, but that’s about it. I don’t like tuna, for the reason you discovered: it’s too dry.

  16. I’ve tried, I really have, but I just don’t like most fish, so I’ll pass thank you, despite some pretty packaging. My partner on the other had would love the sardines and the mackerel, but especially the mussels. He often has fish salad sandwiches for lunch with whatever leaves are ready from our mixed leaf salad plot.

  17. Like others, I grew up eating tinned sardines, octopus, and oysters, but haven’t eaten them in years. Thanks for your experiment and detailed review! My favorite thing to do with tuna is dump it into hot pasta with parsley, capers and lemon zest, so I would try that with most of these fishies.

  18. I had no idea tinned fish was such a thing, beyond sardines or tuna in a can. I love seafood though and am excited to give this a try. As a quick aside, I just want to thank you for taking the time to add alt descriptions to your images, as a blind guy I really appreciate it, it makes a real difference. :)

  19. Welcome to tinned-fish fandom. I’ve been eating sardine sandwiches since childhood — my parents were foodies before foodies were a thing — but in the last fifteen or twenty years, the diversity of tinned-seafood offerings in North America has exploded, even on the shelves of unexceptional chain grocery stores.

    Strong recommendation for anything from Bela (various Portuguese fish), also Pinhaus and Nuri, likewise Iberian imports. Mouettes d’Arvor has a wonderful line of tinned French mackerel in various delicate sauces. And I’m very fond of Trader Joe’s tinned smoked (domestic) trout.

    Mind you, I’m also addicted to the kind of tinned (or, more frequently, jarred) anchovies that cost upward of $10 for a few ounces, and which taste nothing like the fuzzy fish of pizza infamy. So I have a high tolerance for very fishy fish.

    A final note: The perfect sandwich bread for most tinned fish is lightly toasted, lightly buttered rye.

  20. Fantastic review! I’m not a fan of sardines but I love a lot of other tinned fish, like salad shrimp and clams and oysters.

    Regarding Scout, I also didn’t like the Scout albacore but I find I don’t like albacore in general! I do adore Scout’s tinned lobster, though. It’s also a big lump swimming in some juice and doesn’t look appetizing at go, but when I dump the whole can into some pasta and heat it up, it breaks apart nicely and it satisfies my lobster-loving palate. I also tried their trout with dill, and while I liked it, I didn’t enjoy it enough to buy it repeatedly.

    The other tinned fishes I go to again and again are Snow’s chopped clams (cheap & in most grocery stores), Fishwife’s smoked rainbow trout (my spouse hates trout so this is a special treat), and Wild Planet skipjack tuna (much less dry than albacore).

    Based on your review, I’m going to try the mushroom crab!

  21. I like a tuna salad now and again, but have never really delved into tinned fish much beyond that, so this is interesting.

    Thank you for the price breakdown, too – these selection boxes always seem kind of pricey to me, but when you break them into individual costs then I see why they are as they are.

    I guess I need to go fish shopping!

  22. Thank you, Athena. I like seafood but have always shied away from tinned fish because I don’t care for tuna. But your idea of using the mackerel as the basis for a salad intrigues me. I’ll give it a try.

  23. I would be interested in a comparison of these with more conventional tinned fish from a major grocery chain or Costco or Sam’s Club.

    Please don’t be so reliant on what you can mail order.

    I give this post a B+.

  24. Yet another fun and interesting food review! I do not eat any seafood except seaweed, so I was pleasantly surprised that you tried mushroom crab. I am intrigued by the mushroom crab and the celery root whitefish despite the high price tag.

  25. I had a friend who was a bush nurse in Alaska. Her carry-on was always her survival kit, in case of a forced landing, and her emergency food of choice was sardines packed in oil—maximum calories for cold weather.

    Me? I get so sick from fish and seafood that even the vegan option sounds unappetizing. But you did a great job on the reviews!

  26. A small, sustainable US company featuring deliciousness from the Pacific and adorable tin art: Tiny Fish Co.

  27. I loved sardines when I was little and my kids loved them when they were little and we all just grew out of them sometime in elementary school. I don’t know why we stopped but I suspect they’re really nutritious for little kids.

    Canned salmon is pretty good, I think.

  28. My Dad loved tinned fish! Growing up we always had Kipper Snacks, smoked oysters and Sardines in mustard sauce in the cupboard. I have looked online and they can be pretty pricey for the amount you get. I never thought about a subscription box so thanks for the great suggestion!

  29. A note for those who usually dislike mushrooms, like myself: Enoki mushrooms are a breed apart. They don’t tend to have the rubbery texture or weird taste that normal mushrooms do. They are common in Japanese ramen. So that substitute crab mushroom tin might be worth a try!

  30. Well, this is a first: food concoctions or products mentioned by famiglia Scalzi that I’d actually eat, and even find appealing!

    To be fair, much of the earlier stuff has been strictly off limits due to celiac disease. But big upvote for this one, Athena!

  31. Hey, thanks for that! I hadn’t tried all those brands yet even though I live in the PNW. I’m intrigued by the vegan crab.

  32. simple, predictable, stable and nutritious… if anyone is trying to plan for the next wave of bad weather and/or supply chain disruptions and/or Covid smackdowns… tinned fish out be added to your just-in-case shopping list… basics such as sardines might not be top tier gourmet but will keep you healthy when served up as a topping of rice… especially if you add several generous spoonfuls of mayonnaise to the mix… when shelves began going bare here in New York City back in Winter of 2020, I grabbed a dozen cans and so long as I minced up enough raw onion along a heavy spoonful of hot sauce to the mayonnaise for dressing up the sardines (folded into cold rice), it was a momentary distraction from the headlines…

    SUGGEST: if you really are taking seriously food blogging, do it up right by listing more products especially from the lower end of the price…

  33. Yummmm!

    I grew up on tinned seafood. My dad, in particular, was fond of it, and he’d often open a tin and serve it with crackers as a cocktail hour nibble. Kippers, sardines, and mackerel were the most common choices; I loved all of them. Occasionally Mom would serve the mackerel with something like spoonbread or grits as a very quick dinner. We also ate a ton of fresh seafood.

    Enjoy your tins!

  34. Hi. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and demonstrating that writing talent might just be inherited. A very enjoyable piece; please more.

    This reminds me of a fun experience with an Ohio friend who visited me in California and later stayed. He was complaining about all the weird food options at first. And over dinner when I was having a wonderful salmon steak… I offered him a big to try. He said, “no, I don’t like fish”. I probably should have relented, but I thought to ask him, “what kinds of fish have you tried?” Turns out the cheap whitefish used in junkfood frozen fish and etc. So I told him, trust me, you’ve never had fish like this.
    Long story short, he decided maybe some fish was pretty OK. ;)