Tinned fish has always been the friend of the impecunious, which hasn't done much for its reputation. But it can be luxurious too, as anyone who has been seduced by beautifully packaged French sardines that sell for more than five times' their budget supermarket counterpart will tell you.

Whatever your financial situation, I like to think there's a tinned fish that suits everyone. Here are three ways to get you started.

1. Mackerel and kumara fishcakes (pictured above)

These are not those strange, bouncy fishcakes of dubious origin that often turn up in Thai restaurants. These are superfood fishcakes, with gentle spice, nuggets of oily fish and sweet kumara.

Serves: 3-4 as a light meal


  • 2 medium kumara, peeled, cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 2 red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons garam masala
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • 420g can mackerel or smoked fish, well drained
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs


  1. Boil or steam the kumara until just soft, then drain and mash roughly. Tip into a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, then add the garam masala, a pinch of salt and some cracked black pepper. Cook for a minute or two, then add to the kumara, along with the lemon zest, parsley, one of the eggs and the fish. Stir together gently, then shape into palm-sized cakes.
  3. Beat the remaining egg in a shallow dish and put the panko crumbs into another shallow dish. Dip the fishcakes into the egg, then into the crumbs, then set aside.
  4. Wipe out the frying pan, then set it over medium heat. Pour a couple of tablespoons of oil into the pan, then cook the fishcakes in batches, turning to ensure a crisp crust on all sides. Remove to a plate and keep warm in a low oven until they are all cooked. Serve immediately with salad greens and aioli.

2. Sophie's pasta with tuna, currants and olives

This recipe is probably the most lasting souvenir I have of a trip to England in 1999. I gleaned the basic idea from watching a cooking show featuring Sophie Grigson, who sported carrot-coloured hair and earrings made from miniature soup ladles. It's gradually evolved to this version, which makes a great fast dinner for two.

Serves: 2


  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 x 180g tin of good-quality tuna in olive oil
  • ⅔ cup currants
  • ⅔ cup roughly chopped toasted almonds (use sunflower seeds as a budget alternative)
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, stoned
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 250-300g dried spaghetti


  1. Put the onion and red wine vinegar in a small bowl and leave to steep while you get on with organising everything else.
  2. Put the water on to boil for the pasta, and add everything except the spaghetti to the onion mixture, including a tablespoon or so of the oil that the tuna came in. Toss together and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, adding more olive oil if necessary.
  3. Cook the spaghetti until it is al dente and drain, then toss it through the sauce.  Divide between two bowls and serve immediately.

3. Creamy salmon and chilli dip

If you have smoked-salmon tastes on a tinned-salmon budget, this dip is a godsend. I remember an old friend making something similar for her 21st birthday, daringly served with crostini and celery sticks. In a world of chips 'n' reduced cream dip, this was haute cuisine indeed. It's also good as a sandwich filling or piled on crusty toast for breakfast.

Makes: About 2 cups


  • 1 cup cream cheese, softened
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus some of the juice
  • 1-2 teaspoons hot chilli sauce (tabasco, sriracha etc)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup (about a 200g tin) red salmon


1. Put the cream cheese, lemon zest and chilli sauce in a small bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Flake the salmon, then gently fold it into the cream cheese mixture with the mint. Add a little lemon juice if it seems a bit stiff. Taste again for seasoning – add some salt and freshly cracked black pepper until the balance is right. Use immediately or cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Written by Lucy Corry. First appeared on 

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Republished with permission of Over60.