Header Photo Credits: David Loftus

Don’t we all have this one dusty can in the back of our shelves that we have totally forgotten about? In my case, that’s a can of tuna that I didn’t know what to do with until now. I have to admit that I used canned tuna almost my entire life only for pizza. So, I checked the blog to see what else I could do with it and found a recipe for Neapolitan Tuna Fettuccine. Sounds good … except for the olives! 🙁 

As I continue my desperate search for the perfect recipe, I stumble across this awesome cookbook featuring a variety of fish in a can like the obligatory tuna, but also mussels, salmon, sardines or herrings. It is called “Cooking with Tinned Fish: Tasty Meals with Sustainable Seafood” and was written by fish, travel and sustainability enthusiast Bart van Olphen.

Photo Credits: David Loftus

Van Olphen and His “Fish Tales”

Dutch-born van Olphen is not only a successful author, but also very well known on social media. On YouTube, for example, he has his own fan base with the cooking series “Fish Tales” . There, he sometimes travels around the world and cooks different fish dishes with basic ingredients in front of beautiful sceneries – and sometimes he does the same but in his home town Amsterdam. His book is not only a cookbook, but it provides a lot of background information about sustainable fishing and also about the fish he uses. Sustainability plays an important role in van Olphen’s life and cooking routines, so his book is very much characterized by this attitude of his.

Our shared love for canned food makes him the ideal special guest for this blogpost, but before we drill him with our most urgent questions, let’s take a moment and have a look at the beauty of van Olphen’s cooking!

Conserving the Beauty of a Freshly Caught Fish in a Tin

What is the mission of Fish Tales?

Fish Tales wants to make sure that the next generations will still be able to enjoy the most delicious seafood. Endlessly. To realise this, our oceans have to become the healthy source of food and livelihood it used to be. This is a great and important mission that Fish Tales can never complete alone. We believe that all involved parties in the supply chain should take their responsibility. Only by working together we can offer a great and sustainable alternative. An alternative that enables everyone – the fishermen, the consumer, our suppliers and future generations – to enjoy the goodness that sustainable fishing has to offer.

What role do cans play for you and your mission?

The fish that Fish Tales provides in cans is caught in a 100% sustainable way from a healthy fish stock. This always happens in the peak of the season – the moment the fish tastes at its best. That way we can not only guarantee that our fish is caught in a responsible way, we can also promise that our fish is very tasty. Both core values of our mission. Besides that, tinned fish has a long shelf life. So after sustainably catching very tasty fish in the peak of the season, we can ensure by tinning the fish that we enjoy this beautiful product for a very long time after catching it. In the time period we enjoy this fish and the fishermen are not out there catching more, the fish stocks get the chance to recover and remain completely healthy.

What advantages does tinned fish have over conventional or fresh fish?

The freshly caught fish often gets processed into tinned fish the same day as it has been caught, which means all of the delicious flavours and nutrients are preserved. The shelf life is long and on top of that, tinned fish is very affordable. In the kitchen, tinned fish is very easy to use in a broad range of dishes. It’s just a switch in mindset, realising that tinned fish has already been cooked which means the usage is different from fresh fish. But as soon as you get that (and using a little fantasy!) it’s easy to make great dishes with it. Just add some sour, some spiciness, some crunchiness and there you go: a beautiful dish with tinned fish!

Photo Credits: David Loftus

How did you come up with the idea of writing a cookbook about tinned fish?

Tinned fish often gets underrated for no good reason. It is seen as a product in the pantry, which could be used as the last straw when there is really nothing else left. What a lot of people actually don’t know, is that you can really cook high quality dishes with tinned fish. Just as high quality as dishes with fresh fish! You just have to know how to use it and what flavour combinations work well. Sharing this knowledge is something I have been able to do with my Tinned Fish cookbook. The book did very well and we got a lot of positive feedback. It became a bestseller in the Netherlands and has been translated into English and German to be internationally published worldwide. It also motivated me to make another Tinned Fish cookbook with my team: part 2! It will be published in the beginning of 2019.

How did people react when you told them about writing a cookbook on cooking with canned products?

The first two publishers I’ve contacted didn’t want to work with me. Even when I did find a publisher, people were very sceptical about my book. But from the day it got published, it became a success straight away. Along with two other books we even got nominated for Cookbook of the Year in The Netherlands. At this point, we are up to the eighth round of print, which means we’ve sold over 25.000 Tinned Fish cookbooks.

Tell us your favourite recipe from your cookbook?

I really love the recipe for smoked mackerel, beetroot, granny smith and pickles, but it’s hard to choose cause I also like the recipe for sardines with white bean puree and basil oil. Oh, and what about cod liver in orange juice with pink pepper corns and sesame oil.

Why should consumers buy cans more often?

Products in cans are delicious, easy to use and affordable. Tinning conserves the fish and all other products at their freshest moment and due to the long durability, the fish stocks can recover, while we enjoy fish that tastes like it was freshly caught. Not only the flavour of canned products is preserved but also the nutrients. All you need, then, is a little creativity and you can create a fresh and delicious meal with ingredients in cans.

Photo Credits: David Loftus

Sustainability and recycling are two very important areas that are closely connected. Bart van Olphen’s presence on social media and his easy-to-use cookbooks make both principles very accessible for a younger generation which is important to increase recycling rates and to raise awareness for our environment.

If you’re a seafood fan, but also as uninspired as I am when it comes to cooking, then this book is a must-have. The recipes are absolutely manageable and the ingredients are easy to get. Farewell, my beloved tuna can!

For my part, I now have over 44 recipes on my to-cook-next list and luckily, I will even end up with lots and lots of cans. They will definitely come in handy for the DIY ideas I’m planning next.

Are you as creative and sustainable as Bart van Olphen? What’s your favourite canned food recipe?

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