April 3, 2024 - Written by: Nancy Pollard
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Defending The Sandwich

Someone very close to me took exception to the anecdote in the opening paragraph of last week’s post. He stated that his mother made wonderful tuna fish salad sandwiches. She used a competitor to  the Pepperidge Farms sandwich loaf, the slices were lightly toasted, the canned tuna was mixed with a judicious amount of sliced scallions and celery with Hellmann’sRobert V Pollard BLT Mayonnaise – salt and pepper of course. She nestled in a nice leaf or two of butter lettuce (he insists she never used iceberg). Cut along the diagonal, it was  served with crenulated pickle slices on the side. Something called Salad Dressing, which looked like mayonnaise, never entered into her tuna fish salad sandwich equation. As the master of sandwich-making – his BLTs are legendary – he recreated his mother’s version of this American  classic and, except for one issue, they were pretty good. Perhaps good enough to impress Proofreader #1.

Sorry, Charlie

My one complaint was the canned tuna. We tried both the water and oil packed – the latter definitely tasted better. The slight industrial chicken taste with a nod to marine life made me understand the naming of the brand Chicken Of The Sea. But  it was not until I tasted some Italian and Spanish canned tuna at one of the Fancy Food Shows in New York that I understood how good canned tuna could be. I was unable to find a distributor at that time for a couple of Italian brands whose minimums our commercial account could meet, but I did find one for a Spanish brand that was outstanding.

In the US, well over 60% of all canned tuna is skipjack, which is darker than  the paler albacore and has a more intense fish flavor. Skipjack is a smaller fish than the albacore, so the tuna pieces are more shreds than the layers you will find in the pricier cans. Tuna for US distribution is steamed before immediately being canned for further processing. Brine or oil (usually soy or other vegetable based oil) along with any other flavorings are added before sealing and further sanitization of cans. Among aficionados of canned tuna, numerous reviews concur that tuna canned in oil tastes better than tuna preserved in water. Apparently water leaches out the tuna flavor. We should not be unaware of how the food we purchase is created. Below is a very clear and pretty comprehensive short documentary which features some of the better practices for harvesting tuna, both fresh and canned, without any sensationalism or overt branding of a single company. 




The canned tuna we carried in the shop was from Ortiz, a Spanish company that has beenOrtiz tuna from company website72 operating in the Cantabrian sea for 130 years. All their tuna is line caught. For anchovies and sardines, the company uses shallow seine fishing nets. They produce several types of tuna products in addition to anchovies, sardines, hake and mackerel. The company prides itself on following best practices in fish harvesting and being stewards of the oceans. The product that was so popular in the shop was their white tuna preserved in olive oil. We occasionally could get their ventresca (meaning from the belly) tuna, which is tender and buttery with a richer tuna flavor. The Ortiz tuna conserva became so popular with our clients, we would sell it in 12-jar flats for a discounted price. And for the maestro of sandwiches in our household?  He was amazed at how great his beloved sandwich tasted with this new intruder – so much so that he gets nervous now if we are down to one jar. 

Ortiz also makes preserved tuna filets in organic olive oil, which we could never get our hands on to sell in the store. One of the reasons their tuna is so tender and flavorful is that they let it marinate in olive oil before being canned, and it is canned only in olive oil.  Apparently this is the process used also with the better quality Italian brands – including the two that I wanted to carry in the shop. And you can get water-packed tuna from Ortiz and its competitors. The persistent problem with water-packed tuna, even a superior brand, is that the flavor disappears into the water (US producers ran a very successful campaign to advertise water-packed tuna as being more dietetic and healthy, but in saving on a few calories. you lose almost all the flavor.) Thinking back to last week’s tale about the two proofreaders and their tasteless tuna fish sandwich lunch — all I can say is that I care passionately about what I eat, so bring on the tastiest tuna please and bathe it in olive oil! I’ll cut calories somewhere else. 

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Susan
15 days ago

This tuna is so good. We often eat it served on top of a bowl of white beans (preferable Rancho Gordo Marcella) and additional olive oil.