Cooking with Canned Products

Real Academia de Gastronomía

From Can to Plate. Original and surprising recipes using canned fish and vegetables.

Spain has had a thriving, high-quality canned food industry since the 19th century. Canned foods allow people to enjoy seasonal produce at any time of year, and can be eaten as a snack or quick meal, or used to prepare sophisticated dishes more easily.

Chefs Pepe Solla and Juan Antonio Medina have developed some original and surprising recipes using canned fish and vegetables, specially for this exhibition.

Pepe Solla and Canned Fish

At Casa Solla, a family business with more than 50 years of history in Poio, Pontevedra, Pepe Solla prepares contemporary Galician haute cuisine in which the produce takes center stage.

For some years now, he has been giving talks and presentations extolling the virtues of Spanish canned products, and how best to use them in cooking.

Juan Antonio Medina and Canned Vegetables

"Without tradition, there is no avant-garde," is a phrase often repeated by Juan Antonio Medina, head chef of the A'Barra restaurant in Madrid.

He creates traditional cuisine, introducing modern twists while respecting the academic culinary basics.
For some of his creations, he uses high-quality canned vegetables and transforms them into haute cuisine dishes.

Mussels with "Patatas Bravas"

Pepe Solla explains this dish as a fusion between the traditions of 2 of Spain's autonomous regions: Madrid and Galicia. "In Madrid, they are very fond of canned mussels with potato chips. To give it a Galician twist, we serve them with potatoes roasted with their skins on."

The dish is served with a spicy sauce mixed with mayonnaise, and garnished with rocket and chopped chives.


Spain is one of the most prolific mussel-producing countries in the world. The "raft" method is used in the Galician estuaries, where wooden platforms are chained to the bed and the mollusks are bred on ropes.

The shells are large and black, and their meat is orange.

Mussels can be preserved naturally (in their own juice), pickled (in a vinegar, white wine, and paprika sauce), or fried.

Cockle Ceviche

Solla describes it as a "self-ceviche" because "it is essentially made in the diner's mouth."

The base is a thick slice of lime with cockles, sweet corn or baby corn, and chili slices placed on top. The preserving liquid from the canned cockles is mixed with lemon juice and chopped green onion, and then sprinkled on top.

"When you eat it, you bite into the lime, which gives it that extra acidity."


Cockles are small with a ribbed shell and grow deep in the sand, just like clams, which have a similar appearance.

The edible part is white, with a pointed, orange tip.

They are canned in their own juices, and can be eaten as they are or dressed, usually with lemon or vinegar.

"Empanadilla de sardinas" (Sardine Turnover)

"This is a great dish to make with the kids: one of them stretches out the dough (pastry or wonton wrappers) and the other adds the sardine, making sure it's really dry. Then you roll it up and quickly fry it to give it some color."

Each pastry is decorated with chili flakes and served with a sauce made from the preserving liquid from the sardines, a little egg yolk, and virgin olive oil.


There is a long tradition of canning sardines in both Spain and Portugal, and sardines are one of the most widely consumed oily fish in Spain.

Small, with a long body, canned sardines have usually had their guts and innards removed, leaving a small edible spine.

They are canned in many different preparations: in their own juices, in olive oil, pickled, and even with lemon or tomato sauce.

Tuna Belly in "Pil-Pil" Sauce

A simple dish in which the tuna belly is topped with a sauce made from reduced fish stock—"so that it has more gelatin," explains Pepe Solla—whisked together with the oil from the can itself. The result is a tasty sauce known as "pil-pil."

Tuna Belly

This is the juiciest, highest quality part of the bonito or tuna, taken from below the fish's head, near the abdomen.

It has a high proportion of fat, and a gelatinous and delicate texture.

It is usually canned in olive oil.

Clam and Beet Tartare

"To make the tartare, you chop up all the ingredients together: clams, chives, green onion, and black olives," says Pepe Solla.

"The drained beet is liquefied and used as the base sauce for the dish, and you can serve the tartare on slices of apple."


Clams are bivalve mollusks that live in salt water, either in natural shoals or in farms. In Spain, the high-quality and quick-growing varieties known as "pullet carpet shell" and "grooved carpet shell" are the most commonly cultivated.

They are canned in their own juice.

Artichokes with Broth and Jerusalem Artichokes

"The artichokes, fresh from the can, are dressed in a veal broth or a clarified consommé. The flavor of this sauce can be enhanced by adding the preserving liquid from the artichokes," explains Juan Antonio Medina.

To garnish it, the chef adds strips of fried artichoke and a cream of Jerusalem artichoke, which has a very similar flavor to the artichoke itself.


There are several varieties of artichoke, but the one grown in Tudela, Navarra is among the most highly prized. In traditional canneries, the hearts are collected, blanched, weighed, and peeled by hand.

There is a trick for inspecting their quality when jarred: they should be a brownish-gray color, as the more preservatives used, the greener their appearance.

Asparagus Served with Sauces

"To put an original spin on a simple dish, we use asparagus of all different sizes," says Medina.

"One of the sauces is made by emulsifying the preserving water with olive oil. Another consists of mixing egg yolks with a dash of smoked oil, and adding a little of the preserving liquid."


This is one of the most popular canned vegetables.

Asparagus is harvested at night, to shield it from the sun and preserve its quality as much as possible, since it has a very high water content (over 90%).

They are preserved as naturally as possible in a can or glass jar, with a little water, salt, and a few drops of citrus.

Leeks with Orange and Fish

Medina points out that leeks "are a little-known product with great potential, whether as an accompaniment to a salad or canned fish."

He suggests serving them with a reduction made from eel skins, and an orange broth "to garnish and add freshness."


Only certain premium brands sell extra-fine leeks such as those used in this recipe. They contain very little fiber and are therefore soft and sweet.

They are grown in winter, when the cold intensifies the sweetness.

Before being canned, they are cooked and a few drops of citrus are added to help preserve them.

Tomato grilled

"Canned tomato is normally used in salads, cut into strips. In this recipe it becomes the protagonist: we have semi-succumbed it, and marked it on the griddle, as if it were a grilled tomato," says the chef of A'Barra.

For the sauce, mix the tomato water with olive oil and chopped black olives.


Although botanically speaking a tomato is a fruit, in the world of gastronomy it is considered a vegetable.

The "pear" variety, typically grown in Navarra, is generally used for canning. The tomatoes with the best balance between acidity and sweetness are peeled by hand, and preserved in their own juices or olive oil.

Piquillo Pepper Confit, Eel, and Foie-Gras

A simple dish with prime ingredients.

"At home, you can make it in a mold or straight on the serving platter. The foie-gras terrine and smoked eel loin are placed on top of the piquillo pepper confit, and the dish is finished with a layer of pepper."


These are generally roasted before being canned. The varieties known as piquillo, pico, and bell pepper are the most widely used.

They are harvested from September to November, fire roasted in an oven, and peeled. They are then canned in their own juices.

They are usually small and triangular in shape.

The quality of Spanish canned products has made them ubiquitous in both home cooking and haute cuisine: they allow people to enjoy seasonal produce at any time of year, and can be eaten as a snack or quick meal, or used to prepare sophisticated dishes more easily.

Real Academia de Gastronomía
Credits: Story

Text: María García.

Image: David de Luis (location: A’barra restaurant, Madrid). Products supplied by Frinsa and La Catedral de Navarra. With contributions from chefs Pepe Solla and Juan Antonio Medina.

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
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