In September, Kraft Dinner and Mr. Noodle see a spike in sales as college and university students cut loose from the comfort of home-cooked meals.
But why deprive precious brains of nutrition when it’s most needed? Why not cook with fish?
Before getting all huffy about lack of fridge and kitchen space as well as the time to shop and cook, let me just say this: Tin Fish Gourmet.
It’s a cookbook with easy, imaginative recipes using tinned fish.
The first edition in 1998 was such a hit that author Barbara-Jo McIntosh (yes, of that wonderful cookbook store, Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks) was approached repeatedly to update it. Oh, all right, she finally said. The updated version, just out, has 24 new recipes.
The book comes with a top-tier recommendation.
Michel Roux, who with brother Albert, are considered the godfathers of modern British cuisine, (having opened the first three-Michelin star restaurants outside of France) calls the book a “mini-masterpiece.”
“Tin Fish Gourmet is my thrifty frisson, an indispensable little gem that has rarely left my side,” Roux writes in the book’s foreword. “The book shows how that seemingly dull tin lurking at the back of your cupboard can be quickly transformed with the addition of a few fresh ingredients, into an uplifting and mouth-watering dish with minimum effort and maximum taste.”
For McIntosh, fish is a recurring theme in her life. She ate a lot of fish and had great hair, she says, when her divorced mother dated a commercial fisherman. Once, she even lived in an apartment above a fish cannery in Prince Rupert with a boyfriend. Back in those days, tinned fish cooking meant tuna casserole, salmon loaf, and shrimp curry.
In another chapter of her life, a friend in the seafood industry gave her a case of canned salmon and canned tuna for Christmas every year, so she began experimenting with recipes and that’s what led to Tin Fish Gourmet.
“I came by it honestly,” she says. “I certainly ate a lot of fish in my life. I guess once you’re a fish person, it never leaves you.”
Canned fish, she says, isn’t just a retro concept. “Tinned fish is huge in Europe. In Paris, there’s a whole store dedicated to tinned sardines. Spain is big on canned fish, too,” she says.
The added bonus is McIntosh’s charming personality on the pages; you feel her presence, encouraging you to enjoy the cooking process.
“I think of anchovy as the Woody Allen of little fishes — brilliant, but often an uncomfortable feeling surrounds the subject,” she says of the under-loved fish. “I love both anchovies and Woody Allen’s films and both deliver strong, complicated and intellectual morsels worth contemplating with pleasure long after their initial impact.”
And if you’re cooking to impress, McIntosh makes it easy to be fancy-schmancy. Salmon coulibiac could be a long and tedious dish to make but with tinned salmon, Uncle Ben’s wild rice and packaged puff pastry, you earn respect without breaking a sweat. Other recipes include Creamy Garlic and Clam Chowder; Crab and Goat Cheese Strudel; Oyster Pot Pie; Avocado, Chickpea and Salmon Salad; Sardine, Red Onion and Cambozola Sandwich and for old time’s sake, two tuna casseroles.
And should you still be lured by Kraft Dinner and Mr. Noodles when shopping, McIntosh gets scoldy. “It doesn’t take much to make your own mac and cheese with tuna. Boil the pasta, drain, add fish and grated cheddar cheese. It would be much nicer.”
She says seniors (who don’t get out for frequent shopping), boaters, and cottagers would find the book useful, too. “It’s accessible, you don’t need a large pantry or a large kitchen,” she says. “Just stack the tinned fish, pull them out as you need them.”
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* This article was first published in the September 9, 2014 issue of The Vancouver Sun, and can be found here.