'Tinned fish is having a real renaissance'Emily Lawson-Todd for Varsity

I am unashamedly a huge fan of tinned fish. A deep hankering for tinned mackerel led to the death of my (admittedly liberal) relationship with vegetarianism. I am also known (lovingly or otherwise) among my friends as the “mackerel menace” because of my bad habit of microwaving fish. Unfortunately for all around me, the pros of chowing down on a tin of heated up mackerel far outweigh the cons of being a stinky social pariah.

Tinned fish is having a real renaissance at the moment. Say farewell to bland tuna mayo sandwiches that stick to the roof of your mouth, because today’s tinned offerings are much more fun, fresh (well, as fresh as canned stuff can be), and exciting – not to mention, cheap and pre-cooked, making them a staple for a broke student on the go. Really, there’s no better time to jump on the bandwagon. Like a minorly mackerel-scented Virgil leading Dante (you), through the circles of hell (Mainsbury’s tins aisle), I am prepared to be your well-informed guide to all things tinned and fishy. Just don’t blame me when your flatmates start to complain about the smell…

Sainsbury’s Smoked Mackerel in Olive Oil

Price: 95p

Taste: 8.5

Recipeability: 9.5

“Like a minorly mackerel-scented Virgil leading Dante (you), through the circles of hell (Mainsbury’s tins aisle)”

As far as bog standard tins of mackerel go, this is a pretty good option. Mackerel is quite a solid, meaty fish, with less flake than sardines (which for 60p a tin are still fab, and pair really well with pasta dishes), and more of a fishy flavour than tuna, so it’s the perfect ‘starter’ tinned fish for the sceptical among you. I am a bit of a mackerel fiend and have been known to eat this on toast, straight out the tin, with a little bit of salt and pepper on top. But if that’s not your vibe, then I suggest bunging it in a pan with some caramelised leeks, onions, cannellini beans, a good dollop of cream cheese, salt and pepper (and dill if ya nasty), then adding a twist of lemon juice for a very hearty one-pot meal. Warning, however, this thing can and will stink up your kitchen. If you want to keep your friends, maybe consider investing in Febreze.

Sainsbury’s Smoked Mackerel in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Price: 95p (mega bargain seeing as it comes with its own sauce)

Taste: 9

Recipeability: 8

Now this is the real crème de la crème of Sainsbury’s cheapo tinned fish. If you’re looking for ‘spicy’, prepare to be disappointed, because there is no heat at all in this sauce – but it is absolutely bloody delicious. Very fragrant and ever so slightly sweet, it works well with the smoky flavours of the mackerel, which like all other Sainsbury’s variants is solid and meaty, with a bit of flake. You can eat this on its own, heated up, as I have done many times when I realise it’s the only thing in my cupboard (sometimes a girl is too lazy to make the two minute trek from Sidney to Sainsbury’s ok?). But if you really want to go the extra mile, I suggest adding it, sauce and all, to a tomato-y, onion-y, butterbean-y stew base with some garlic and some extra paprika. Garnish with some coriander to feel fancy, and serve with a side of crusty bread.

Sainsbury’s Tinned Wild Pink Pacific Salmon in Water

Price: £1.39 (this thing will last you many meals though)

Taste: 7

Recipeability: 7.5

“If you want to keep your friends, maybe consider investing in Febreze”

Warning: this has bones. This seems obvious in hindsight, but the first time I saw tiny spine bones in my tin, I was beholden with a sense of morbid fascination, followed by mild revulsion, and I had to go sit down in a dark room and read some Seamus Heaney. You probably could keep the bones and make them into a cool necklace, but in this tinned fish lowdown, we’re not here for jewellery, we’re here for fish, glorious fish, baby. This tin is drier than baked or pan-fried fresh salmon, and is subsequently flakier, so you may want to combine with some mayo and sriracha, some fresh rice, some nori sheets, and a dish of mirin (or soy sauce) topped with sesame seeds for a quicker version of the salmon bowl. I also like using it in a fish pie, but this is really not a fish that stands up on its own. However, for half the price of the fresh stuff, this isn’t too darn bad.

John West Smoked Mussels in Sunflower Oil

Price: £3.00

Taste: 8

Recipeability: 8

Ok, this is a boujee one at a whopping three quid. I’m a sucker for mussels, but often find that I can’t be arsed to buy them in shells (and have YOU ever tried steaming molluscs in a student kitchen?). Enter these bad boys. You can eat them as they come, but to get the real bang for your buck, I recommend bunging them in a paella-type dish, which you can make really easily with rice and a few other ingredients, or putting them in a tomatoey seafood stew with some chillis. They also pair really well with a creamy linguine dish that’ll make you seem dead fancy if you ever host any dinner parties. However you cook them, these mussels are robust and make for an excellent alternative to more ‘regular’ tinned fish.


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These few recipes probably won’t win you any friends in the kitchen. From experience, I also don’t recommend scranning a tin of sardines just before going off to a DoS meeting/date/literally any other situation where you don’t want your breath to smell like the sea. However, hopefully the next time you’re broke and tired in the aisles of Sainsbury’s, you might stop by the rows of tinned fish and maybe think about giving them a go.