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Anticipation was high in the test kitchen this week for a tasting of one of the food editors' go-to treats: tinned fishes. It's often the starting point for a team breakfast: a tin or two is set out at a station with good bread, olive oil, fresh parsley, and lemon wedges, and everyone helps themselves. When our friends at Bela and Wixter Market sent over an assortment of their latest offerings, the editors decided to bring in their favorites as well for the ultimate savory breakfast.
Some members of the 42 Burners team grew up eating tinned fishes and have long had a soft spot for it. "I used to eat sardines and smoked oysters straight out of the can," says deputy editor Greg Lofts. "It's one of my earliest food memories." Similarly, food director Sarah Carey is fond of sardines in tomato sauce because her dad would often send her off to school with a tin for lunch. Meanwhile, editor at large Shira Bocar comes from a "chicken salad family"—there was no tuna, let alone other tinned fishes, on her dinner table—and recipe tester Riley Wofford is allergic to tuna, so they didn't become converts until more recently.
The team opted to taste all the tunas, followed by all the sardines, then the mackerel, and so forth. While the focus was on fish, the editors also sampled an array of tinned shellfish, including clams, mussels, squid, and octopus. They tried each variety on its own, as well as with the test kitchen's usual accompaniments. New favorites were declared, such as La Brújula's rich, buttery yellowfin tuna belly, which comes from Spain. "The texture is like a pair of silk pajamas," Shira said. "This would be great with tomatoes for a no-cook summer dinner."
Old standbys also held up, such as Greg's beloved Latvian sprats, which are small, oily fish similar to sardines. He first discovered them at Russ & Daughters, the legendary Jewish deli in New York, where he would always go to pick up cod liver (Greg has very esoteric taste when it comes to tinned fish). He purchased a can of sprats on the staff's recommendation several years ago and has been buying them ever since. He's partial to eating the smoky little fish on toast with a tangle of arugula, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Other winners included José Gourmet's trout fillets in pickled sauce and sardines spiced with piri-piri chiles, which both hail from Portugal. Senior editor Lauryn Tyrell enjoyed the flaky, slightly tangy trout and marveled over the single carrot and cucumber hand-packed in the tin of sardines. Shira's looking forward to giving Bela's meaty sardines (also from Portugal) the smoked-salmon treatment, perching them atop toasted rye bread with cream cheese and thinly sliced red onion. And if you can't handle tinned fishes for breakfast, follow Greg's lead and make it dinner: open four or five different tins, then serve with country bread, ciabatta, or a baguette; something briny, such as olives, marinated artichokes, and piquillo peppers; and plenty of fresh herbs. Entertaining doesn't get any easier!