Thanks at least in part to a demand for more sustainable seafood, there's a surge in wild canned salmon guaranteed to surprise you with its good flavor.
Wild Planet is one such brand that cans wild Alaskan salmon of the same bright orange hue and clean flavor you get at upscale restaurants. The canning process, necessarily, cooks the salmon beyond its ideal doneness, but the best canneries take care not to completely overdo it and the fish tastes good - in terms of both a distinctly salmon but unfishy flavor and a plump texture - right out of the can.
Tossed with a bit of mayo and relish, it makes a fine salad or spread for a pita. Add a small scoop of salmon roe and crème fraîche for a quick but worthwhile upgrade. I am especially enamored of a retro treatment: salmon cakes (recipe follows). They're very quick to mix and coat in panko, though they do require a few scant moments in a hot skillet.
Also making a comeback is the decidedly unsexy sardine. Better brands (including Wild Planet) pack the fish cleaned and scaled for easy eating. Tiny fish like sardines, being low on the food chain, are both easy on the environment and low in mercury. Assertively salty and packed with fat and flavor, they need little to enhance their personality.
My favorite way to serve them is to mash them together using a fork in a bowl with a few tablespoons of minced onions and several generous spoonfuls of Dijon mustard. Spread over crackers and, accompanied by a cold beer, it's the ideal five-minute meal, especially during summer. Of course, with a little more effort, canned sardines can become the base of a buttery fish rillette (recipe follows) or the centerpiece of a composed salad inspired by the Mediterranean along with tomatoes, olives, and capers.
You probably have at least one can of seafood - tuna - in your pantry right now. Maybe concerns about mercury poisoning or the slow extermination of that noble species have left you conflicted about cracking it open. But conscientious canneries are making great strides in catching only low-mercury specimens and only those from truly sustainable stocks. Some imported tuna, sold in glass jars instead of cans and packed in good fruity olive oil, tastes better than the ersatz bluefin you see on sushi menus.
Of course, you could make a sandwich, but better ingredients call for better recipes. Tossed with chickpeas, capers, and quartered grape tomatoes, tuna makes for a seasonal Italian twist on lettuce cups. Blended with olive oil and herbs you get tonnato, a rich sauce for pasta, raw vegetables, grilled eggplant, or steak tartare. Tuna like this is the ideal star of the classic French Nicoise (recipe follows).
These improved options are now available almost everywhere. Otolith, the local sustainable seafood CSA, sells cans of sustainable salmon at its Head House Farmer's Market stand on Sundays. And I've seen high-quality canned salmon, tuna, sardines, and even smoked baby clams at stores like Wegmans, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. Read the label for specific information about fishing practices and mercury content and accept that you will pay more for these better-tasting, healthier, more environmentally friendly alternatives.
It will still be a lot cheaper than takeout, and, if you ask me, a far better plan on a 90-degree day than firing up that grill.
Makes 6 servings
1/3 cup diced red pepper
1/3 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for filming the skillet
2 six-ounce cans salmon
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1. In a large skillet, combine the pepper, onion, and olive oil, and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
2. Combine cooled vegetables in a large mixing bowl with all the other ingredients except the panko crumbs. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Form the mixture into 6 patties, then press each patty into the panko crumbs to coat both sides. Add enough oil to the skillet to film it, and cook the salmon cakes over medium heat until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.
Per serving: 399 calories, 45 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 18 grams fat, 149 milligrams cholesterol, 207 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
- From Joy Manning
Makes 4 servings
Two 33/4-ounce cans sardines in olive oil
3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup minced chives
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Place the sardines in a medium mixing bowl and mash well with a fork. Add the cream cheese, butter, shallot, Dijon mustard, chives, and vinegar and stir until the mixture is a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Press a sheet of plastic wrap over the surface of the rillettes, and refrigerate at least one hour to allow the flavors to blend. Serve with baguette slices or crackers.
Per serving: 112 calories, 4 grams protein, trace carbohydrates, no sugar, 11 grams fat, 32 milligrams cholesterol, 156 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
- From Joy Manning
Makes 4 servings
For the vinaigrette:
1 small minced shallot
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced tarragon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
2 4-ounce jars tuna, flaked with a fork
6 cups butter lettuce leaves, torn
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup green beans, steamed and chilled
1/4 cup good black olives, sliced
4 hard-cooked eggs, quartered
1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small mixing bowl, combine the shallot, olive oil, red wine vinegar, tarragon, Dijon mustard, and mayonnaise. Whisk to blend well. Reserve.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the tuna, lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, and olives.
3. Toss with the dressing to coat evenly, and divide among 4 salad plates. Top each portion with a hard-cooked egg and serve at once.
Per serving: 330 calories, 23 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, 182 milligrams cholesterol, 196 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
- From Joy Manning