What do I do with the oil in a tin of seafood?

Make some soup with it.

It isn’t really fall yet in Philadelphia; most of the trees are green, and it’s usually shorts weather. On a good night, it’s just chilly enough for sitting by an open window with a wool sweater on to be comfortable. Nothing much is crunching underfoot.

This is the ideal time of year for soup. Maybe not all soups—it’s not exactly the right time for a Dutch oven full of vegetables to simmer away for hours while things go into the oven and come out baked—but definitely for simple ones, the sort that clear your head and make you want to take a long walk.

The one I’ve liked best recently is a quick one full of pantry items; I make it for two but it’s very easy to double it. I like it, a local tinned-fish enthusiast also likes it, it’s easily doubled or halved, and it’s an answer to the question I get most often, which is, “What do I do with the oil?”

There are a lot of answers to this. I’ve been trying to find a fantastic video I once saw of a chef at Güeyu Mar—the restaurant associated with Conservas Brasadas Güeyu Mar, which makes some of the best cans of seafood in the world—plating some sardine loins from a can. He treated the oil, which he artfully poured over the fish with the edge of a spoon, like what people call it—liquid gold. If you get a really good can, you can just pour some in a little bowl and dunk warm bread in it, or dress salads with it, or lightly fry the contents in it. I like to make soup with it.

To do this, put a pot—I use a deep two-quart sauté pan, the second-most useful of all pots, but whatever is fine—over medium heat, then dice about a little under a half pound of vegetables. The last time I made this I used two stalks of celery, a small red onion, and two seeded jalapeños, but you could use bell peppers, or hotter peppers, or leeks, or thinly-sliced carrots, or whatever you have around.

Once the vegetables are chopped, bring the heat down a bit and open two four-ish ounce tins of seafood in olive oil. (The last time I made this I popped a Conservas de Cambados Octopus in Olive Oil—these are fantastic and I highly recommend them!—and some Henry and Lisa sardines I got at Whole Foods, but you can use pretty much anything, as long as it’s packed in oil; mussels and trout really shine here. Personally I like to use ones that are packed in plain oil, but there are all sorts of cans with really intense flavors that would work great.) Drain the oil into the pot, let it warm up, and then toss in your vegetables and coat them evenly in the oil. You’ll want to give these five to seven minutes, stirring every so often and chopping a couple of cloves of garlic and throwing them and some herbs and spices in toward the end. (I like a lot of black pepper, some thyme, a bay leaf, and a dried chipotle, but whatever you like will work; you might want to hold off on the salt for now as the tins have plenty.)

Once everything is nice and soft, add in a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes and another can’s worth of liquid. (This can be anything. The last time I made this I used some cold brew kombu dashi I had in the fridge but any kind of lightish stock is good, as as is beer, as is wine, as would be wine and water or water and lemon juice.) Stir everything around, turn the heat back up to medium, and leave it alone for 15 or so minutes with the lid off, just checking in once in a while to make sure it’s not coming above a simmer. At this point, crush the tomatoes up with a potato masher or whatever you have, add in your seafood—you probably want to break any big trout or sardine fillets up—and let it go another few minutes with the heat down. Once everything seems to be the right consistency, add some lightly chopped parsley and serve it in bowls over some rice or with some crusty bread for dipping.

As people all over the world have long known, the oil in a quality tin is precious; whatever you do with it, don’t waste it!


I hope you’re having a great fall! If you’re in Philadelphia, note that the Bottle Shop at 44th and Spruce—which has as good a selection of beer and wine as there is in the city—has a small but absolutely fantastic selection of tins, and fancy crackers to go with them. Drop a line to poppingtins@substack.com, feel free to forward or share or subscribe or what have you, and please enjoy Thelonious Monk’s 1964 rendition of “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)”: