At the Table

The Stylish Cult of Tinned Fish

By: Hannah Lee Leidy

Step into that trendy, millennial wine bar, and you might smell something fishy—a fresh take on the latest food and wine pairing. Alongside hazy glasses of natural wines and pet-nats, you’ll find a more esoteric trend coming up in the food scene: tinned fish.

We’re not talking about convenience store canned tuna. Visit a wine bar or tapas spot, and you’ll increasingly find plump anchovies packed in olive oil, Portuguese sardines, barbecued eel, and smoked cockles taking a front-and-center position on the menus. The briny, umami richness of tinned fish contrasts against bright, acidic wines. Natural wines, especially, have a funk that balances the hefty dose of fish oil. Pair it with crusty bread, pickled peppers, and a spritz of lemon—and the long-dismissed pantry item transforms into an elevated aperitif.


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Stems and Skins

This Charleston wine bar helped pioneer the tinned fish movement. It opened in 2016, offering Cambados smoked cockles, mackerel paté, and smoked sardines with peppers all served, yes, nestled in their polished tins. The name, Stems and Skins, refers to the natural winemaking process of fermenting wines along with grape skins and woody refuse. The menu aptly reflects this with an extensive selection of natural wines along with classic cocktails and beer, even earning the establishment recognition as a James Beard semifinalist for an Outstanding Wine Program.

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Restaurant Adarra 

Restaurant Adarra’s conserva menu is like a gateway to the tinned fish cult. It includes approachable options, like sardines in olive oil, along with more adventurous choices, like squid swimming in its black ink. The curated selection at the Richmond restaurant pairs each type of tinned fish with accoutrements customized to complement the distinct heady flavors, ranging from baguette and lemon to potato chips and hot sauce. Along with fish, the Basque-inspired kitchen creates pintxos and plates that highlight seasonal ingredients from around Virginia. 

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French bistro fare gets inspired with Japanese influence at this New Orleans neighborhood hangout. The eponymous N7 refers to the Nationale 7 highway that led vacationers from Paris to the Italian border. Travelers relied on the red-bound Michelin guide to guide them to small restaurants along the route—thus inspiring the Michelin star rating. N7 pays homage to its European roots with a wine list that features small, old world producers, particularly ones who employ natural winemaking methods. Don’t expect jamon or paté under the menu’s charcuterie selection—here, guests trade cured meats for smoked mackerel and octopus.

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Austin-based LoLo lets oenophiles bring natty, funky pizazz to their gatherings with a robust arsenal of sparkling, orange, and rosé wines, along with classic varieties. However, shoppers also have the option to gather at LoLo’s outdoor patio and choose a bottle from their eleven-page wine list. The menu includes a few snacks, and while cheese and charcuterie seems like the obvious pairing, we’d urge you to shake it up with tinned fish, saltines, and a squeeze of lemon.

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