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It all started with a tuna melt.
For some, the realization that canned fish is one of the most delicious, sustainable and practical proteins comes during a trip to Spain or Portugal, where sardines, anchovies, octopus, and more have been packed into tins since the mid-19th century. For me, it was an encounter with an open-faced sandwich: Buttery thick-cut challah piled high with tuna salad and blanketed with melted cheddar, with a half-sour pickle on the side.
Up until that point, fish in a can was reserved in my family’s pantry as either emergency earthquake rations or back up cat food (it seemed that the only distinction in the pull-tab tins specified for feline-consumption rather than humans was that they had a well-groomed cat on the label). But once I saw the light, I became obsessed with the canned-fish aisle.
I pored over the rows and rows of brightly colored tins at the supermarket. I learned fish could be preserved in different ways, in olive oil or tomato sauce, with salt or lemon, in a never-ending variety of different spices. I would buy them a few at a time, opening them all at once and sampling each on buttered bread, sprinkled generously with salt. I learned quickly that I liked some more than others—the fish packed in oil, for example, were much more flavorful and rich than those packed in water—and became more targeted in my selections. It was this relentless trial-and-error that led me to my favorite canned fish to date: skinless, boneless, oil-packed mackerel. Here’s why:
Mackerel tastes richer (and milder)
Canned mackerel has a flavor that’s milder than sardines or anchovies, while still possessing plenty of savory umami goodness. And since mackerel is a fattier fish than tuna, it turns especially luscious when packed in olive oil, making it the perfect entry-point for anyone still unconvinced about the whole fish-in-a-can concept. This mildness also means it doesn’t have the distinct scent that comes from a can of tuna, if that’s the sort of thing you worry about in a snack.
The fillets are bigger
Speaking of snacks, the filets are almost twice the size of a sardine, meaning you can make a full meal out of, say, one can of mackerel plus good buttered bread and half an avocado, all sprinkled with flaky salt and a squeeze of lemon—something I find myself doing fairly often in the stuffier late-summer evenings when turning on the stove is really not an option (although for some, summertime is oventime).
Good for you, good for the environment
I already mentioned that mackerel is a fatty fish, but we're not just talking any fat: It has some of the highest concentrations of heart-healthy omega-3's. These silver swimmers mature quickly, meaning they’re less likely to be overfished and can be caught using methods that aren’t harmful to other species or the environments they come from. In general, mackerel is considered an environmentally friendly seafood, particularly compared to tuna. (This brand is especially sustainable—and delicious.)
Easy to swap in for tuna
Still not sure where to start? If you’re not quite ready for eating fish straight out of the tin, that’s okay! Mackerel has a firm texture similar to canned tuna, so that it can be flaked without falling apart. Try swapping it in where’d you’d typically use chicken—like on a salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, tossed in a pasta, or tucked into a sandwich with buttered bread, sliced avocado and some fresh greens. You can also use one of our favorite leftover fish hacks to turn it into a dip or spread. I promise: Once you give mackerel a try, you'll come up with plenty of excuses to eat it again.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious