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The Case for Canned Fish

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As a defiant response to Sad Desk Lunches, the Food52 team works to keep our midday meals both interesting and pretty. Each week, we'll be sharing our happiest desk lunches -- and we want to see yours, too.

Today: We know you have canned fish. Put it to good use, all week long. 

An assortment of canned fish

I'll admit that canned fish isn’t the most subtle of desk lunches. Unlike pickles or savory oatmeal, there’s no use being stealthy about, say, sardines -- because the minute you crack open a briny tin, your coworkers will know exactly what you’re up to. So why bother with canned fish at all? Two reasons: The first is because we know you have it. The second is because you can put it on everything. 

Let me explain. On some nights, when we feel like responsible adults, we plan ahead. We roast our chicken, we toss our salads, and -- weekday heroes that we are -- we have enough left over for lunch tomorrow. But this doesn’t happen as often as we pretend it does.

More: You deserve better than the deli down the street. Here's how to pack lunch in under five minutes.

Instead, on those mornings when you’re halfway out the door with mismatched socks and an empty lunch bag, don’t worry -- canned fish has your back. Here are some of our favorite ways to turn it into a respectable desk lunch

Tahini dressing and vegan rice bowl

Start with last night’s grains. If you have leftover quinoa, couscous, or rice, all you need is a tin of canned fish and a few scavenged vegetables to round out the heartiest of desk lunches. I’m especially partial to tuna and jasmine rice, the dynamic duo that fueled many an all-nighter in college. (No? Just me, then.)

Avocados with vinaigrette for lunch

You already love avocados vinaigrette. Fill the hole in its heart with a protein-rich spoonful of canned fish -- and don’t forget a few spoonfuls of your favorite homemade dressing

Provencal Tuna Melt Recipe with Canned Tuna

It’s been a long day, and you need a little comfort food. Tuna gets you. At the office, you’ll toast your bread like you would for cheese toast, and then spread it with a thin layer of canned fish, topped off with a blanket of cheese. Hello, tuna melt

Assortment of Bela Portuguese Sardines

If you’re lucky enough to unearth a tin of sardines, you know it’s going to be a good day. Flavorful all on their own, sardines ask only for a sleeve of crackers, a buttered baguette -- or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a few sheets of nori. Our friends at BELA Sardines top their seaweed-wrapped fish with wasabi peas and cranberries, but feel free to use whatever else you have in the cupboard. It’s a lunch both thrifty and filling -- the ultimate pantry meal.

Are you on team tuna or team sardine? Let us know in the comments!

Avocados vinaigrette photo by Marian Bull; all other photos by James Ransom

Tags: not sad desk lunch, canned fish, sardines, anchovies, toast, lunch, seafood

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Comments (20)


3 months ago sarabclever

Love this!


12 months ago Francesca Melis

Love the sardines but don't have the nerve for them to be used for at work lunch. I tend to save them for at home and then use the tuna for work. Olive oil packed tuna yum. Then on some grains or left over veggies or both with a strong mustard vinaigrette. Yummy mm.


12 months ago Marylea Murphy Adams

Trader Joe's canned smoked trout is the bomb. Pasta, some veggies, maybe a red sauce...just sayin.


12 months ago suzi

Thanks for that. Been wondering if I should try those.. Always wimp out and get the trusty sardines.


12 months ago Karl

Don't forget about canned Wild Alaska Salmon.


12 months ago Dianecpa

Very true


12 months ago PJ

Team sardines here. They have to be skinless and boneless and packed in olive oil. Great stuff!


12 months ago nomnivorous

Any recommendations on high quality brands (of sardines or ANY canned seafood)? Are things like canned smoked oysters worth trying? I'm not a big tuna-in-water fan but I'm otherwise pretty adventurous (sardines, anchovies, and love non-canned seafood).


12 months ago Sandra Laurentino

Not sure where you live or how available these things are worldwide but if you ever come across a yellow and red tin of the brand "Tenorio" with an old photo of a very hirsute man (looking at one atm) buy it. It's quite possibly the most extraordinary canned tuna you will ever eat, fillet in olive oil (not a fan of tuna-in-water either, it's just boring).
"Comur" canned eels are just exquisite and I bet they are sold around the world.
I love "Ramirez" canned sardines (not the fillets) because they are both affordable and of great quality, though I bet there are even better ones out there.
Finally, "A Poveira" (they have several brands) has a website in english so I guess they export worldwide, they have some great canned fish and seafood!


12 months ago Sandra Laurentino

Just a side note. "A Poveira" cans are definitely sold in the US, I just spotted one of their brands (Bela) in the article.


12 months ago Kelly Nicola

Canned oysters are delicious!! On crackers with pickles, cheese or any niblets really. So good!


12 months ago Sarah Duve

Oh boo, I was hoping to see some smoked trout suggestions!


12 months ago Dianecpa

I found a recipe in a Frugal Gourmet cookbook that bakes sardines in the oven in a small casserole blanketed with roasted pepper......becomes like a spread!


12 months ago girlwithaknife

One of my faves is sliced boiled eggs and sardines on a warm ciabatta roll, with a squeeze of lemon, olive oil and balsamic. Add a side salad and BOOM. Dinner.


12 months ago Nikki Garmon

Saltines and smoked kippers make a fabulous lunch. For a snack I love saltines (again!) with pickled herring. We always keep canned tuna in the panty too for tuna patties or tuna salad.


12 months ago ambradambra

Agree with Sandra. Here in Australia I buy a brand of Portuguese tinned mackerel that is lovely. It's great straight from the tin put on toast with some chopped parsley, garlic and plenty of cracked pepper.


12 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I'm squarely in the sardine camp for casual meals, but I also love any-and-everything "tonnato." My true loves in the tinned fish department however are salmon and kipper snacks, which I often combine and keep in a jar, with nothing added, to dollop on my homemade lavash crackers https://food52.com/recipes... or slices of my artisanal baguettes, for an inspired, satisfying lunch -- typically with a sharply-dressed grain + seeds and/or nuts + vegetables + fresh herb salad on the side. ;o)


12 months ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I love sardines, but would never take them to the office. The aroma would be way too offputting. OTOH, tuna or salmon are my big standbys when there's no leftover chicken, pork chop, whatever. I'm a big fan of the 3-ounce cans.


12 months ago Sandra Laurentino

I just adore canned fish but that's no wonder. I'm Portuguese and we've made an art out of putting fish into cans. I never thought how bad canned fish could be until I moved to Germany. I find it very difficult to get good quality canned fish here so I usually fill my luggage with cans of sardines, tuna, sticklebacks and mackerels whenever I go home.


12 months ago Lori

I'm love both of them, although I haven't been able to find my favorite sardines, they're the ones in a big tin with tomato sauce, my dad got me started so many years ago.