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The case for Conserva

It's probably not the most familiar scene for many of our readers, but stay with us, because we're about to make your life so much better, and more delicious, with tinned seafood.

You don't need to ask more than once if you're planning on serving a South Carolinian good seafood. We enjoy a long coastline, and rich fishing waters that are the envy of our landlocked friends further inland. Plan a crab boil, Beaufort stew, or oyster roast, and you'll soon find you had way more friends than you previously thought.

But as much as we love our fresh seafood around here, did you know that many other coastal cultures not only go crazy for fish fresh off the boat, but also for fish and bivalves right out of the can?

Cork and Cap's Pantry Goals (photo by @salsamento)

It's probably not the most familiar scene for many of our readers, but stay with us, because we're about to make your life so much better, and more delicious.

Say "canned seafood" to most Americans, and their heads fill with images of inexpensive Starkist and Bumblebee cans that were good for little more than mixing with mayo and celery. But talk about canned or "tinned" seafood (known broadly as conservas) to a Spainard, or Portuguese, or denizen of far western France, and they will wax poetic about smoked mussels, octopus in olive oil, beautiful cockles, roses of hake, and so, so much more. In Spain, it is common to find restaurants whose entire menu revolves around conserva. Indeed, it is oftenmoreexpensive to procure certain seafoods in the tin rather than fresh from the market. Why is this? Because they are DELICIOUS.

Take 5 minutes to perform a Google search, and you'll soon discover that in America's larger markets (and cities as close as Asheville), people are waking up to the wonders of gourmet conservas from Spain, Portugal, and increasingly, America itself. Hikers and other outdoorsy folks have long prized them for their nutritional density, easy portability, and ultra-long shelf life. Wine lovers know their natural salinity and richness make pairing most any white, rose, or bubbly wine a snap. And their typically beautiful packaging makes them look like you took hours preparing that apertivo tray, when all you really did was pull back some lids and lay out some crostini. 

Tin-to-Table spread (photo by Epicurious)

So what makes really great conserva so different from $0.50 cans of glorified cat food? You might guess the quality of ingredients, and you'd be right. But let's talk preparation. Conserva artisans in Spain and Portugal take years to learn their craft, taking the same pains to package their product as a Michelin-starred chef would take to plate your food. The oil they pack in is highest quality, the smoking or steaming of the fish is delicate and painstaking, and the balance of flavors in terms of what they choose to accentuate the fish or shellfish is worthy of any 5-star restaurant. 

Spanish delights (photo by Matiz)

But unlike 5-star restaurants, you'll rarely spend more on a conserva meal than you would a fast food meal, and your pantry will have one of the most versatile staples imaginable. The oil from the can is SUPER flavorful, and can be a great base for dressings, sauces, or just dipping bread into (Erin and I often fight over who gets to scarpetta up the last of the oil), and until opened, the product is non-perishable. Indeed (and here is the crazy--and maybe best--part), tinned seafood actually gets BETTER with age! As the natural oils of the fish condense into the flesh, the conserva just becomes richer and more delicious. You can't buy too much, because after you stock your pantry, you literally never have to worry about spoilage, only the risk of things getting more delicious than you initially expected.

We could fill up several more pages listing what makes these surprisingly affordable delicacies so worth seeking out, but the best way to see how right we are is for you to head in when we open and pick up a tin or three. While you're in, we'll set you up with the perfect wine pairings to help usher you into a flavor experience that has been sorely missing in your life. We'll see you soon!


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