There is a saying in Spain that if produce is good, can it. Unlike Australia where the canning industry is, well, just an industry, in Spain it is an artisanal business comparable to the craftsmanship of leading cheesemakers and charcutiers around the world. In my travels I have seen women in the town of Santoña in the north of Spain hand clean and hand fillet anchovies no bigger than a schoolgirl’s finger and carefully lay them down in a shiny new tin, side by side, with the care of a mother tucking in a newborn.
The art of conservas – meaning conserved or preserved goods – dates back to Roman times when the best Spanish pork was cooked in a layer of its own fat and shipped back to Rome in amphorae. When canning came along the Spaniards continued the tradition, using the finest produce that would present beautifully and represent the best of the harvest or the catch. Today conservas can be everyday items of high quality to feed a family, such as tuna belly preserved in olive oil, to be used in a tomato salad, or a special occasion product to be enjoyed with good wine. Most often seafood, conservas can also refer to preserved fruit and vegetables.
Spanish anchovies, for example, are some of the best in the world. The best are harvested from the cold waters of the Cantabrian Sea, fermented in salt for almost a year, filleted, packed in oil and sealed. They are not pasteurised like many tinned products. Enjoy them laid out on some thin dried toast with a glass of dry wine or sherry or wrap around an olive and enjoy with a beer. In Galicia, on the west coast, plump mussels are cooked in wine, spices and vinegar then covered in oil and canned. Galician mejillones en escabeche can be served on crackers, in a salad, or as they do in bars in Spain – straight from the tin with a little fork. One of the specialities are razor clams or navajas. Imagine an elongated mussel that tastes more like a scallop. They’re delicious with a textural white wine or a vermouth.
Have conservas on their own or lay them out on toasted sourdough. Have them at home alone or have them at a bar with friends but whatever you do, enjoy them with a little drink.
Enjoy conservas at: Noble Rot, Point Lonsdale; Union Street Wine, Geelong; Woodend Wine Store; Seddon Wine Store; Brunswick East Wine Store; and Lily Blacks, Melbourne CBD (Victoria, Australia).