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How to make the most out of canned food

Sooner or later, no matter how skillful and ambitious you are in the kitchen, you will run into lack of time or money or both and end up cooking dinner with canned food as your only resource. That’s when you can really tell who is a pro and who isn’t.

On this page you will find some tips on how to take canned food to a higher level. Some come from professional chefs, some from resourceful amateurs, and some we are not so sure about. Let’s get started with a list of the best cans – or tins – around:

Tomato the king of cans

Those who are in the know claim that you should buy whole – not crushed – canned tomatoes. The flavors are better preserved that way. Nothing beats canned tomatoes for whipping up a decent meal with the help of only a little onion, garlic, herbs and pasta. Or with – why not – canned beans.

Canned tomato tips:

  • It’s the juice in the can that tastes of tin. Your dish will taste better if you pour out the liquid and make whatever it is you are making from the whole tomatoes only.
  • When it comes to tomatoes, you will get value (taste, rather) for money if you spend a bit more on every can. If you don’t believe us, try.
  • Whole tomatoes taste more and better, but don’t worry about using the crushed kind if that is what you have. A little sugar can make flavors pop.  
  • A sauce made from canned tomatoes goes well with canned capers, canned olives, canned tuna, and more…

Canned beans come second

To be more exact, pulses of every kind: Kidney beans, black beans, borlotti beans, pinto beans, white beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. They can all supply “the core” in almost any improvised dish. They are also great for ”filling out” when yesterday’s leftovers aren’t quite enough to go round.

Canned bean tips:

  • The longer your beans can lie around in a sauce or stew, the more flavor they will pick up. But:
  • For some reason the beans you find in a can always seem to be overcooked. Unless you want them to fall apart, be careful not to overcook them further.
  • Canned chick peas don’t fall apart the same way that beans do. Make sure to always have a can or two at home.
  • Most of us pour off the viscous fluid in the can, but some say you can add sugar to it and whip it into a hard foam resembling egg white and that can be used for making meringue. (We have tried, but it didn’t work. Please get in touch with us at PS if you know more about this ”trick”.) They also say it can be turned into a “vegetarian mayonnaise”…

Third place: Sardines, tuna and mackerel

Fish in a can is not for everyone, but those who like it will never go hungry. And anyone who likes sardines will never need Omega-3 oil supplements…

Sardines and others, tips:

  • Sardines are in good company with harissa, but also with Sriracha.
  • Make a "goo" from mushed sardines, garlic, lemon, oilive oil and some cooked potato. Top off with freshly ground black pepper.
  • Make a quick variety of Italian ”pasta con le sarde” (google it).
  • Make a hearty sandwich with sliced, boiled eggs and sardines. Or mackerel in tomato sauce.
  • Add a can of tuna in oil to the pasta sauce made from canned tomatoes.

Disputed fourth: canned corn (maize)

This is not the sexiest of canned products, but it does contribute some goodness to the world. It brings some invigorating color and it is one of few canned products that you actually need to chew.

Canned corn tips:

  • Boil the corn and mix into a smooth soup. You probably don’t want to add anything that makes it sweeter than it already is. Garnish with a fine oil and some freshly ground black pepper.
  • Canned corn adds some color to a salad – but not much else. A vinaigrette adds freshness and excitement for the taste buds.
  • To be perfectly honest, deep frozen corn is better.

Canned runner ups:

Baked beans, goulash, chicken soup, canned mushrooms, mussels, dulce de leche/condensed milk (for instant desserts), and more. We have chosen not to include pickled vegetables and other goodies that generally come in glass jars.

6 recipes from cans:

• Very simple and very tasty tomato sauce. Make it from canned tomatoes (see above) and all you need to add is garlic, a glass ow wine and a little olive oil (although boosting the umami and saltiness with anchovies is a great idea). Give it some time to simmer and serve with household pasta. And, of course, you do happen to have a chunk of parmesan in the fridge…
• Make instant hummus. Put canned chick peas, a clove of garlic, olive oil, a table spoon of tahine, lemon juice and salt in the mixer. Actually, you can do this with any can of beans. Serve as dip or mousse to practically anything…  
Vitello tonnato à la can. This classical Italian sauce should be served with veal, but it also goes well with much else – not least if you are a bit desperate. Put mayonnaise, tuna, capers, and an anchovy or two in a maixer (and if you happen to have a dash of veal gravy lying around…). Top off with lemon juice and black pepper, you probably won’t be needing more salt.
• Slice up and fry chorizo – or another spicy sausage – with sliced onion and chopped garlic. Add canned tomatoes, canned red peppers and canned chick peas. Let the sausage stew simmer for a while before serving – but not too long, or everything will turn to mush. Serve with an aggressive, rustic red wine.  
Bean gratin. Fry onion and thyme and add the strained beans. Mix a clove of garlic, olive oil and bread crumbs and cover the beans. Gratinate in the oven and serve. Or make it even simpler: Just cover the beans with a layer of cured cheese…
• Add chopped onions, chopped, hard boiled egg and capers to a can of mackerel or sardines in tomato sauce. Give it a gentle stir and serve on hard bread, Swedish style.

Bon appetit and don’t forget to replenish your stock of cans.


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