Seafood delights in tin can alley


Seafood delights in tin can alley

LIENTJIE WESSELS' sardine recipes will make you look at little silver fish in oil with new eyes.


I HAVE loved tinned sardines all my life, especially the Portuguese type.

Those I grew up with my mother bought from various Portuguese shops in downtown Pretoria. I've been eating these sardines for as long as I can remember on brown bread with thick butter, sliced ​​onions and maybe a sprinkling of chilli flakes.

It always takes me back to a school afternoon in the early 1980s in Riviera, a place filled with sunshine, lush green delicious monsters, palms, the bluest blue water and disco as the theme music: “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound”. John Paul Young's iconic evergreen hit transcends time.

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Riviera is not the exotic destination you might imagine but a suburb in Pretoria below Meintjieskop and the Union Buildings. Here in the suburbs near the city there were wonderful times, with the inevitable tear here and there.

Not too long ago, colleague and friend Anneliese Burgess and I were talking about our shared love for these silver fish in oil, sometimes with spices, herbs or smoked. We even exchanged photos of our stash and that got me craving the dish from my childhood. But I also thought of the many wonderful ways you can use these fish in other meals.

Anneliese referred me to the website Popping Tins run byTim Marchman, a man with an almost obsessive love for all things seafood in tins — something that's also a global trend due to the convenience of this type of food and its shelf life.

In a time where we have to go about things frugally, cans also make sense in your pantry. And I'm talking about all canned goods, including beans, lentils, vegetables, sauces, coconut milk and anchovies.

And don't forget about Chinese supermarkets, where you can buy canned items such as water chestnuts, jackfruit (a  good vegetable alternative to sardines with the right seasonings) and many more.

But back to the canned fish, which actually can be regarded as a Portuguese national food. Lisbon shops such as Loja das Conservas and Comur, with its circus theme, are dedicated entirely to canned fish.

There is also a new cookbook, Tin to Table: Fancy, Snacky Recipes for Tin-thusiasts and A-Fish-ionados by Anna Hezel from Epicurious magazine (a must-have for me).

I think this trend has potential to grow more, provided the sustainability issue is resolved. After all, canned food is “fast food" that is healthy and delicious.

I would like to share some of this week's recipes with you:


1. Sardine rillettes for entertaining

  • 1 tin of sardines
  • 150 g cream cheese
  • 50 ml cream
  • 50 g caramelised butter
  • zest of half a lemon
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • handful of chopped chives
  • 2 tbsp chopped dill
  • ½ tbsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp pink salt
  • black pepper


Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse just a few times until mixed but still a little coarse.

Serve on toasted wholegrain bread with chopped herbs and pickled onions as a snack or appetiser for four people.

2. Sardine pasta for 2 to 4

This pasta is inspired by Sardinia and is made with sardines, raisins and pecans:

  • half a pack of cooked spaghetti, al dente
  • 80 ml olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 smaller fennels, cut and chopped with leaves
  • 80 g raisins that have been in boiling water for 1 hour, chopped
  • 80 g pecans, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 10 g tomato paste 
  • juice of half an orange
  • 1 tin sardines
  • 10 strands of saffron, soaked in 60 ml of warm water
  • chives and spinach, chopped for serving
  • 1 tbsp roasted pumpkin seeds


Heat oil in pan, add onions and fennel and fry until soft. Add the raisins, nuts, garlic and tomato paste.

Fry until well mixed and add the sardines. Fry for 1 minute then add saffron water and cook quickly for another minute. Add the orange juice and stir lightly.

Mix the pasta sauce with the cooked pasta and serve with chopped herbs and pumpkin seeds.

Serve as a starter for four or main meal for two.

3. Sardine cookies for 4

  • 2 tins of sardines
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp Seven Spice or other chilli mix powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 ½ cup of breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 60 ml cooking oil, for frying
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • spinach
  • rocket leaves
  • 2 wheels crumbed feta
  • baby tomatoes
  • handful of olives
  • 20 ml olive oil


Mix sardines well with thyme, spices, salt, mustard, soy sauce, breadcrumbs and eggs.

Heat oil in a pan, form cookies and fry all sides until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper towels and leave to cool.

Dry-roast sesame seeds until golden brown and serve with sardine cookies, salad (spinach, rocket leaves, feta, baby tomatoes, olives and olive oil) and bread.

♦ VWB ♦

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