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9 Delicious Ways to Use Inexpensive, Heart-Healthy Canned Fish

By Shannon Llewellyn
July 1, 2024
Courtesy of The Roasted Root

When we say, “canned fish,” your mind probably goes right to tuna, and it makes sense — Americans eat about 1 billion pounds of canned and pouched tuna per year. But in recent years, other types of tinned fish, including salmon, anchovies, and sardines, have risen in popularity, with overall sales rising from $2.3 billion per year in 2018 to $2.7 billion in 2023. Plus, more upscale brands with interesting flavors have emerged, taking canned fish from ho-hum lunch ingredient to gourmet delicacy. Now, aside from typical tuna salad, there are lots of interesting — and healthy — ways to use all kinds of canned fish.

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Is it healthy to eat canned fish?

In a word: Yes. Loaded with heart-healthy omega-3s, calcium, and vitamin D, sardines, anchovies, and canned wild salmon are among the healthiest and most economical fish choices out there. And unlike larger fish including some types of tuna, sardines and anchovies have little to no traces of mercury, which makes them doubly appealing. Canned wild salmon is also low in mercury.

Canned fish recipes

There are endless ways to incorporate canned fish into all kinds of meals. Here are some of our favorites.

The skinny on sardines

Packed in oil, water, or a bit of tomato juice, sardines come in a variety of styles. The two most popular methods of packing sardines are the Norwegian method and the Mediterranean method.

The Norwegian method involves cleaning and smoking the sardines whole, and then removing their heads before packing them in oil. In the Mediterranean method, the fish are gutted and the heads are removed before being packed in oil. Both methods involve cooking the sardines so they’re ready to eat from the can or to use in a recipe. Cooking them also helps soften the bones, which makes them easier to eat.

Straight from the can, they taste great served with crackers, a dollop of Dijon mustard, and Tabasco sauce. If you’re using sardines in a recipe, you’ll generally want to drain the oil and gently blot them dry with a paper towel. Below are a few ways to use these healthy flavor bombs in some memorably delicious recipes. 

1. Smoked Sardine Bruschetta with Fennel and Pine Nuts

Smoked sardine bruschetta

Courtesy of delicious

This elegant appetizer contrasts the bright, acidic flavor of tomatoes and orange segments against the mild, creamy flavor of white beans and pine nuts, with the smoked sardines providing a big umami hit. Need a shortcut? Substitute your favorite store-bought hummus for the white bean puree. Pro tip: Lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry sauté pan. This burns off the oil, intensifies their flavor, and keeps them extra crunchy.

Try this recipe from delicious.

2. Coconut Quinoa Sardine Bowl

Coconut quinoa sardine bowl

Courtesy of Dishing Up Balance

This quinoa bowl recipe requires only four ingredients and takes just 15 minutes — what’s not to love? Making quinoa with coconut milk instead of water has to be one of the smartest, easiest ways to upgrade the flavor of this protein-rich grain. We’d recommend throwing in some lime juice and cilantro for added flavor, if you have them on hand. 

Try this recipe from Dishing Up Balance.

3. Healthy Lemon Sardine Pasta

Lemon Parmesan sardine pasta

Courtesy of The Recipe Critic

Seafood is often paired with lemon juice and capers, and this pasta recipe is a good example of why. You take sardines fresh from the tin and toss with those ingredients, plus pasta and parmesan cheese; it’s so simple, yet bursting with flavor. If you’re gluten free, try the recipe with chickpea pasta, or choose a lower-carb noodle, if you like.

Try this recipe from The Recipe Critic.

Add flavor with anchovies

Anchovies are quite different from sardines, even though they’re both small fish that are often sold in oblong cans. Because they are an oily fish, anchovies are packed as boneless filets in drums of salt and left to cure for up to 12 months. The salt draws out the moisture, preserving them before they’re packed in little tins of olive oil. Though you might think of anchovies as a polarizing pizza topping, they have a very distinct, umami flavor that adds depth to many recipes, including Caesar dressing

1. Bagna Cauda

Bagna cauda

Courtesy of Inside the Rustic Kitchen

The ultimate anchovy recipe, bagna cauda means “hot bath” in Italian. Similar in texture to a fondue, bagna cauda is a heady mix of garlic, anchovies, and olive oil. Use it as a heart-healthy dip for vegetables like radishes, add a tablespoonful or two to a chili or soup, or spoon it over a grilled steak.  

Try this recipe from Inside the Rustic Kitchen.

2. Brussels Sprouts Salad with Warm Anchovy Vinaigrette

Brussels sprout salad with warm anchovy vinaigrette

Courtesy of Ahead of Thyme

This impressive salad is a low-carb, high-protein offering that works well alongside any main dish, but could also stand on its own (especially with the addition of a poached egg on top). Heating the anchovy filets into a warm dressing over the cool, thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts makes for a great contrast, but you could also roast the Brussels — or replace them with shredded kale.

Try this recipe from Ahead of Thyme.

3. Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti puttanesca

Courtesy of RecipeTin Eats

The secret to the richly flavored sauce in this dish is melting anchovies into it, which lends it a deep umami flavor contrasted by tart capers, olives, and fresh basil and oregano. For a healthy upgrade, swap pasta for zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash, or use this sauce in your baked eggplant parmesan.

Try this recipe from RecipeTin Eats.

Cook with canned salmon

Wild salmon tends to be healthier than farmed (though both are good sources of omega-3 fats), but it’s much more expensive, too. Canned is a great way to enjoy wild salmon, as it’s far less expensive than fresh — plus, it’s shelf stable, so it’s convenient, too.

1. Salmon Patties

Salmon patties

Courtesy of Self-Proclaimed Foodie

Anything in patty form is going to be a crowd-pleaser, and this canned salmon recipe is also easy to make, on the table in 30 minutes. It’s also completely customizable: Swap the panko for ground-up crackers, add any fresh herbs you have on hand, serve them with a dipping sauce.

Try this recipe from Self-Proclaimed Foodie.

2. Canned Salmon Tacos

Canned salmon tacos

Courtesy of Balancing Bowls

Fish tacos are always a good idea, and canned salmon makes these quick and easy, perfect for busy weeknights. Mix canned salmon with taco seasoning and lime juice, and your filling is ready. Make (or buy) some fruit salsa, shred some lettuce, warm a few tortillas, and dinner is ready.

Try this recipe from Balancing Bowls.

3. 10-Minute Salmon and Rice Bowl

Salmon and rice bowl

Courtesy of The Roasted Root

This is a perfect quick lunch to use up last night’s leftover rice (or another grain). Mix the salmon with coconut aminos (or soy sauce), sriracha, and a little mayo, spoon it over the rice, and enjoy with avocado and toasted seaweed, or over a bed of greens. Simple, tasty, and loaded with good nutrition.

Try this recipe from The Roasted Root.

Read next: Beyond Tuna: 3 More Canned Fish to Try

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