Why You Should be Eating Conservas
Hearing the words “canned fish” conjures images of gray, salty chunks of fish floating in water, waiting to be tossed with jiggly globs of mayo and too-big chunks of celery.
Time to banish those thoughts. Known as conservas in Spain and Portugal — doesn’t that already sound better than canned? — these go far beyond tuna fish sandwiches.
The tinned fish are staples in Spain and Portugal, served in restaurants and bars simply with bread, a glass of wine and a green salad. Many traditional, family-owned canneries still thrive, sustainably sourcing their fish and hand-packing them at the peak of freshness with flavorful oils, peppers and tomato sauce.
“There’s a working man’s quality to these snacks,” said Glenn Fahlstrom, owner of the Lakeview fish destination bearing his name. “Conservas aren’t esoteric; it’s not buttoned up. It’s just good, casual eating.”
In partnership with seafood specialist Wixter Market (2110 W. Division St.), Fahlstrom’s has a dedicated conservas program, joining restaurants like Wicker Park’s Black Bull, Boston’s Saltie Girl and New York’s Maiden Lane as evangelists of the humble-but-tasty canned goods.
Fahlstrom’s stocks 29 varieties (which include fish pates), from tuna in olive oil to worlds best sardines in a tomato sauce. Prices span from $5.25 at the lower end (for mackerel pate) to as much as $35.75, for sea urchin roe packed in brine. The restaurant sells the tins for dine-in only, bundled with either soft toasted bread and butter ($3.75) or with a deluxe charcuterie-style tray ($13.45). The latter comes with thinly sliced ham, softened rosemary onions, pungent garlic confit, fruit preserve, a generous serving of bread and a dill-infused mustard. All Conservas is also available in our retail market.
“It’s a way of having a quick meal for two before going to the theater,” said Fahlstrom.
The tins themselves are stylish, especially those from Portuguese purveyor Jose Gourmet featuring charming illustrations by different artists. The company’s trout pate in Port wine ($7.95) was merely OK — the trout pleasantly soft but otherwise neutral — but the spiced sardines ($12.25) were a delight. Delicate nuggets of fish, the sardines were soaked in a sharp-yet-luscious oil, marinating alongside a carrot and pickle. The other flavors on the deluxe board are different yet complementary, but ultimately you return to the aggressive fish, which leaves a lingering heat on your palate. Don’t forget to sop up the oil with your bread.
In the future, Fahlstrom wants to offer sandwiches for the conservas, just dumping the canned goods — and they are good — right onto crusty bread and call it a day. “A working man’s treat.”
So much for tuna sandwiches.