Canned fish - as good for you as it is the budget
School’s back so the lazy, early evening fishing expeditions, leisurely enjoyed at the local wharf, are no more. If we want fish, we have to buy it — and heavens above, that’s a budget challenge!
Statistics for consumer spend on fish are hard to find. Our cousins across the ditch spend roughly two per cent of their grocery bill on fish. Taking that as a guide and given we spend, on average, $218 per week per household on groceries, at two per cent I calculate that’s about $5 per week on seafood or 70g of fresh salmon. At my local supermarket salmon is now more expensive than lamb racks.
With fish prices loitering around $40 per kilogram, in part due to the consumer wanting boneless, skinless white fish fillets, and snobbishly only from a few favoured varieties, it’s time to look to tuna and salmon — not fresh, but canned.
In America in the 1990s, canned tuna was the preferred way of eating fish, with consumption there at around two kilograms per person per year. As trends go, that figure has dropped in this new millennium, as canned foods have become less respected. It’s a trend we don’t need to follow and, to be fair, pre-flavoured pouched tuna and salmon have helped steady the decline.
A little-known fact is that canned fish, like fresh fish, is a good source of protein and other important nutrients, and one isn’t necessarily healthier than the other when canned in spring water and not oil. Data from the US Department of Agriculture show that fresh and canned fish have comparable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, with canned pink and red salmon having slightly higher levels of two omega-3s than is found in fresh. Canned salmon has other merits, too. A 100g serving delivers almost as much calcium as a glass of skim milk — if you eat the soft little bones. (Mash them up with a fork and you’ll never notice them!)
Both fresh tuna and salmon are delicious, albeit expensive, which is where canned variants hold the trump card (tuna at around $5.50 per 425g can, pink salmon $7 for 420g) when turned into simple fare — salads, pasta bakes or that Kiwi classic, and now cafe-chic lunch menu stand-by, the fish cake.
The basic fish cake recipe has not changed in eons. My 1962 Edmonds Sure to Rise cookery book calls for ½ lb each of cooked fish and mashed spuds, an egg and seasoning. Method — mix, crumb if wished, and pan-fry. Basic it may be, but from such an unsophisticated recipe using the basic ratio, the humble leftover can, with a little culinary creativity, easily become a bespoke superstar.
Potatoes can become kumara. Either can join forces with parsnip, carrot or even hummus or falafel mix. Canned salmon or tuna is ideal, with its health benefits and well-appreciated long shelf life. Your only choice is spring water or oil, the former being healthier, but drier in texture. Crumbs can be fresh or dried (panko crumbs, trendy as they may be, are overkill), reconstituted couscous, some seeds, shredded coconut or chopped nuts. As for seasonings, turn to store-cupboard essentials like curry pastes, spice blends or herb pastes to inspire.