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When Adam Branz, executive chef of Union Station’s Spanish- and Portuguese-inspired Ultreia, added a “pescado conservado” section to the menu in September, it was intended to give the restaurant a deeper sense of place: It’s common in those countries to enjoy tinned fish as an elegant snack. His timing couldn’t have been more perfect. In the last several months, Bon Appétit and Saveur have joined Food & Wine in writing about the trend, highlighting restaurants like Saltie Girl in Boston and Hayden in Los Angeles. But given most Americans’ experience with canned seafood (we’re looking at you, chunk tuna in water), he knew there would be a learning curve. What he didn’t expect was a following. “People come in specifically for it now,” Branz says.
Of Ultreia’s seven offerings, which range from small, spiced sardines to smoked mussels in “escabèche” (marinade), the mackerel and anchovies have emerged as crowd favorites. In particular, the former—a traditionally oily and “fishy” fish—mellows when preserved in olive oil, becoming almost buttery in texture. Whichever you choose, scoop a bit of the fish onto one of Ultreia’s accompanying tomato-powder-dusted potato chips—which are just salty enough so as not to override the seafood—drag it through the aïoli, and then pop it all in your mouth. Repeat, preferably between sips of Basque cider.
Ultreia (like Cart-Driver in RiNo and Corrida in Boulder) champions the tins and the simplicity of the product by serving the fish still in its can. The reason is twofold, Branz says: The presentation adds to the experience, and “we can remove the connotation that bad fish goes into cans. Some countries put their highest quality fish in a can.” Moreover, the artwork decorating the tins is Instagram-worthy—and there’s nothing like guaranteed likes to goad Denver diners into trying something new.
To make an on-trend seafood charcuterie board: Arrange a couple of open tins on a platter with crackers (try Fort Collins’ Nita Crisp Crackers) or chips (we like Jackson’s Honest Chips out of Crested Butte), aïoli, and thin slices of lemon.
Seafood conservas are showing up on the shelves of local shops, too.
Lou’s Italian Specialties | Curtis Park
You’ll find a solid selection of Bela, Ortiz, and Jose Gourmet tinned fish at this new Italian market and deli.
Look for: Smoked sardines
Marczyk Fine Foods | Uptown and East Colfax
Marczyk has carried the Spanish Matiz brand since opening on 17th Avenue in 2002. Co-owner Barbara Macfarlane says the key is real Spanish olive oil: “Some companies use neutral oil. But trust me, the olive oil makes it.”
Look for: Mussels in olive oil and vinegar
The Truffle Cheese Shop | Cherry Creek
This shop cycles through a handful of brands, including Ramón Peña, and carries one special, giant Spanish tin of tuna packed in olive oil from renowned producer Carlos Dentici.
Look for: Razor clams in escabèche
Cured | Boulder
“The Jose Gourmet products won us over in tastings, and they have fair pricing with an added bonus of an aesthetic that pops,” says Cured co-owner Will Frischkorn.
Look for: Spiced octopus in olive oil