Canned sardines or “conservas” are a quintessential Portuguese treat enjoyed in restaurants, kitchen dinner tables and seaside picnics across Portugal and the globe. This delicious and nutritious Portuguese delicacy finds its origins in the Iron Age when the Phoenicians and Greeks caught wild sardines off the coast of Portugal and preserved them in containers filled with salt. The sheer abundance and quality of sardines across the country’s expansive coastline propelled this fish to become a national treasure both preserved and eaten fresh as history progressed.
Tinned food made a debut in the Portugal food scene in the mid-1800s and it quickly boomed after the two world wars. It was the perfect war and post-war food as it kept the form and flavour intact for years and could be stored in pretty much any conditions.
Two centuries later, canned fish has become a true gastronomical art form. You can find a variety of canned fish around here, with everything from the famous sardines to the lesser known but oh so delicious mackerel, tuna, octopus, codfish (you´re familiar with our love for “bacalhau”, right?), squid and even the exquisite fish roe.
Today we’re presenting you Conservas de Pinhais, a company that was founded over 100 years ago with 4 partners whose main goal was to make the highest quality canned sardines available. They accomplished it back then and continue to do it today.
As usual, I will share five fantastic facts about the company and why you should include their products in your kitchen staples.
OVER A 100 YEARS PERFECTING CANNED SARDINES
They make around 25 thousand canned sardinnes a day, all hand made. This may sound like a lot but in truth it is considerably smaller compared to other factories using machinery and producing over a daily million. Their aim is to always maintain the traditional methods and handwork throughout every can, making sure they’re all packed with quality.
100 WOMEN WORKING BY HAND
In Pinhais’ factory there are around 100 women doing all stages of the productive cycle. It starts with thoroughly cutting and eviscerating each fresh sardine fish all the way to the final moment where they wrap the can. We’re talking about 37 fundamental steps from start to finish. Also, because they only use fresh produce, each day the workers must fetch, chop and prepare each ingredient for each different can of sardines.
THE TOMATO SAUCE IS AN ABSOLUTE SECRET
It’s something amazing to witness and, above all, to taste. Oh! And speaking of taste, each recipe is a secret perfected from generation to generation. Their top product is the sardines in tomato sauce, made by Emília, a 67 year old cook who’s been there for an astonishing 49! The most amazing thing is that, although she absolutely nails it, Emilia doesn’t even like tomato sauce at all.
IT MAY BE CANNED BUT IT IS FRESH
At Pinhais there is a real effort to use only fresh produce. It starts really early in the morning by buying the sardines at the fish market and then bringing it to the factory where it stays in brine for under an hour. Only after that it enters the working line all the way to the wrapping finish. Each ingredient like the pickles or the tomatoes are brought and chopped on a daily basis, nothing is frozen.
YOU CAN BOOK A TOUR THROUGH THEIR (HAND)FACTORY
Talking is easy but at Pinhais they give you a chance to really witness all the work and visit the factory like an alive museum. There’s also a possibility of doing some tastings and you can even wrap your own canned sardines at the end.
Tinned sardines are lauded by doctors as one of the healthiest foods on the planet. A recent study published in the Washington Post praised tinned sardines for their super low mercury levels, and the incredible omega 3 count - over 1,000 milligrams in just 3 ½ ounces! Making them even healthier is a natural process they go through when they are canned (gelification) which breaks down the bones so they are easily digestible - and boom, bones bring a ton of added nutrients (like calcium)!
Super high quality Portuguese tinned sardines like Conservas Pinhais can be enjoyed simply with crackers and a piece of toast or with some veggies on a piece of toast (check that recipe here!).
You can also add them to a salad, pizza or some pasta. And for wine, I would suggest a fresh zippy Portuguese Vinho Verde to match the brightness and acidity of the sardines. My next blog post will chronicle more related recipes!