As conservas culture takes the U.S. food scene by storm, tinned seafood is becoming a new pantry staple and popping up on hip bar and restaurant menus in cities around America. This historical practice of preserving food in a can, specifically a variety of fish, bivalves and cephalopods, allows us to dive into another culture’s food traditions, participate in this growing trend, and enjoy seafood sourced directly from estuaries and open seas around the world.
Conservas de Cambados began selecting the finest seafood from the estuaries located near their birthplace in Galicia, one of them being Ria de Arousa, the largest estuary in the northwest region of Spain. The cannery quickly grew, and by 2008, they were exporting small, net-wrapped tins to Europe, the U.S., and other markets around the world. Despite their rapid growth, Conservas De Cambados prides themselves on maintaining pristine culinary traditions that are present in each tin of seafood sold. It has now been 35 years of Conservas de Cambados, and despite their notoriety in conservas culture around the globe, their relatively small facility of 8,200 square feet continues to uphold artisanal standards with sustainability in mind.
I was immediately enamored by the shiny lettering and trademark net wrapped tins and cracked open their Mussels from Galicia in marinade for a late dinner on a Monday. The king size mussels, describes as such on the packaging, are fried in olive oil and packed in a vibrant reddish orange marinade called Esabeche sauce, made from vinegar and smoked paprika. The mussels were arranged neatly, looking plump and begging to be devoured. There were only 4 in the tin, which speaks to their incredibly large size. That larger size is a very desirable characteristic when eating mussels, clams and other bivalves. Harvested at the peak of size and fat content after fattening up all season in the warm, nutrient dense waters, they are perfectly plumped and ready for the cold season. The texture of the mussels was very tender, so much so they nearly fell apart when speared with a small fork or bitten into. My first bite was a pleasant surprise, not slimy, briny, fishy, or chewy at all; these mussels were straight up decadent. After eating two alone to fully experience what a king size mussel has to offer, my curious palate took over and I turned to my fridge for some adventurous accompaniments. I unearthed some cannellini beans and cornichons, mashed the beans with salt, pepper and olive oil, spread it on a small piece of toast with the cornichons, and perched the last of the mussels atop, with a drizzle of the marinade to tie it together. The creamy richness from the beans and mussels along with the crunch of the toast and cornichons, was a composed and satisfying bite with the smallest amount of additional labor.
Days later, I dove into their Scallops in Galician sauce and clams in brine. The Scallops, packed in a thick tomato sauce with pieces of onions and herbs throughout, gave a tickle of sweet heat at the back of my throat and were so packed with flavor that I didn’t want anything other than some light crackers to accompany them. The sauciness left at the bottom of the tin made a perfect dressing for a spinach salad with a little chevre crumbled on top as a side dish.
The clams from Galicia in brine, the most simple and delicate of the 3 tins, rose above the other two in the most elegant manner. After the first taste, I felt a cool sea breeze come across my senses, and wanted nothing more than to frolic along the Galician coast. I couldn’t help but devour the whole tin with only a fork and the occasional dash of Espinaler sauce. Packed in translucent milky brine, these clams had the perfect amount of salinity and chew.
There’s a sense of ease and joy when cracking open a can of plump mussels, glistening sardines, or whichever tin speaks to you. These tins have an extensive shelf life, are cooked and seasoned to perfection, and ready to eat straight from the tin. As a company that places a high value on sustainability and upholding tradition, the offerings from Conservas de Cambados are nothing short of excellent.