For almost a year now, food-obsessed patrons in Toronto have been shelling out $60-plus for high-end cans of Spanish cockles at Bar Raval and lining up for the sticky toffee puddings and tourtières that Charlotte Langley of Scout Canning sells in tins. Meanwhile, Spam – as in the luncheon meat – is holding its spot on restaurant menus across the country.
And yet, somehow, home chefs – especially when they're entertaining – still consider tinned food a last resort: a little too cheap, a little too convenient and as far from artisanal as possible.
A quick perusal of any grocery store's canned food section will reveal fascinating and delicious finds, such as escargot, Icelandic cod liver or sardines in tomato sauce. Maybe canned food gets a bad rap because it's not always easy to figure out exactly what to do with the stuff. So, to help up your tin game, we challenged four chefs to come up with can-based recipes that are good enough to change public opinion.
Maple-pomegranate glazed unagi
Shin Suzuki, Pidgin, Vancouver
The canned food options at an Asian grocery store are among the most interesting pantry additions you'll find anywhere (if you can find it, shiokara – preserved squid innards – is briny, chewy and as funky as Gorgonzola). Chef Shin Suzuki has a soft spot for canned eel, the sweet and tender seafood also known as unagi. "It's something I grew up on," he says. "It's delicious."
He suggests serving the fillets on steamed rice drizzled with a simple glaze made from soy sauce, mirin, maple syrup, ginger and pomegranate seeds.
1 cup short-grain rice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 small knob of ginger
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1 can unagi
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (toasted and ground)
Wash and steam rice, keep warm. Combine soy sauce, mirin and maple syrup in a small pot. Crush the knob of ginger and add it to the pot. Reduce to a syrup consistency. When glaze is cooled, remove the ginger, add pomegranate seeds and set aside. Open the unagi and place as many fillets as you like on top of the steamed rice. Sprinkle with chopped chives and sesame seeds and drizzle the maple pomegranate glaze to finish.
Dustin Gallagher, Peoples Eatery, Toronto
Cassoulet is a meaty, superlatively hearty peasant dish that's steeped in French tradition. For casual cooks, it's the ultimate whatever's-lying-around meal. "Canned beans are a great product," chef Dustin Gallagher says. "I think you can make great vegetarian dishes with food that's readily available."
For the cassoulet:
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 bouquet garni of thyme, rosemary and sage
2 cans cannelini (white kidney) beans, around 15 ounces each
1 can stewed tomatoes, around 15 ounces
2 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch chopped kale
1 tablespoon paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the topping:
8 pieces butternut squash (half moons from the bottom)
4 pieces Japanese eggplant, cut 4-inches lengthwise with tops and bottoms cut off
2 vine-ripe tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of Parmesan
Salt, to taste
In a large pot, sauté garlic, onions, jalapeno and bouquet garni. Add drained beans, tomatoes, vegetable stock, kale and paprika and cook at a low temperature for 30 minutes.
In a large skillet, sear-roast squash, eggplant and tomato. Take tomato out once it has a nice colour, then glaze the eggplant and squash with maple syrup, lemon and butter. Season with salt.
Mix parsley, breadcrumbs and Parmesan in a bowl.
Put the cooked beans in an ovenproof dish and top with the roasted vegetables and the breadcrumb mix. Place in the oven and broil until golden brown.
Chickpea, tomato and tuna bruschetta
Tret Jordan, Homer St. Cafe, Vancouver
Bruschetta can be way more than just chopped tomatoes on bread (though there's nothing wrong with simplicity, either). Chef Tret Jordan opened four cans for this savoury bruschetta: chickpeas, anchovies, tomatoes and albacore tuna. "There are always concerns about overfishing with tuna," Jordan says, "but Raincoast Trading is a brand that's Ocean Wise certified."
1 cup canned chickpeas
1 cup canned tuna
1 cup canned tomatoes
4 fillets canned anchovy
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sliced fresh baguette or crostini
Open the chickpeas and give them a good rinse with cold water.
Open the tuna and flake into a bowl. Open the tomato and chop into 1/4-inch dice. Reserve the tomato juice.
Heat a good-size pan on the stove to medium-high, and then add the olive oil. Add the anchovy fillets first and gently fry. Using the back of the fork, mash the fillets until they almost completely break up.
Add the garlic and sauté until just starting to turn golden brown. Stir in the chickpeas and continue to sauté.
After 30-45 seconds, tip in the chopped tomato and a splash of the tomato juice. Keep the heat up to help reduce the juice and add the flaked tuna and stir to mix in. Cook until the tomato juice has reduced enough to bind together. There should be almost no juice left from the tomato, but a good shine from the olive oil.
Stir in the chopped herbs and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve warm or chilled with crostini or a sliced fresh baguette.
Marc Landry, Landry & Filles, Montreal
Traditionally, a Scotch egg is coated in sausage, but chef Marc Landry has come up with his own version using canned corned beef instead. "When I was working in England, we used canned corned beef at the Ivy," he says. "We made a corned beef hash, and I've taken that hash and put it around an egg."
A low-tier Scotch egg is tough and rubbery, but Landry's suggestion for a five-minute boil – which solidifies the egg white but not the yolk – will avoid this pitfall. A word of warning though: while Scotch eggs are delicious, they're tricky to make, so patience is required.
4 small potatoes
2 small onions, chopped
1 can corned beef, 7 ounces
Worcestershire, to taste
1/2 cup flour, or enough to coat eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs, or enough to coat eggs
Boil four of the eggs for 5 minutes. Chill and peel. They will be quite soft, so be careful with them. The five-minute boil is ideal for yolk texture, but eggs boiled for a slightly longer duration (6 or 7 minutes) will be easier to work with.
Boil the potatoes until they are soft, roughly 12 minutes. Chill, peel and grate the potatoes.
In a pan, cook the onions on high heat until they are charred.
In a separate bowl, mix the corned beef, the potatoes and the onions. Add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce to your taste.
Coat the eggs with the mix, using about a quarter of it for each egg. It can help to coat the egg with a bit of flour beforehand. If the mix is too wet, add flour to it as you gently sculpt it to the egg.
Beat the remaining two eggs in a bowl. Take the coated eggs and proceed with a breadcrumb coating (put the coated eggs in flour, then in the beaten eggs, then in breadcrumbs.)
In a fryer or a pan with oil, fry the coated egg until crispy and golden brown.