How To Turn Canned Fish Into a Delicious, 15-Minute Dip

Consider this your new favorite party trick.

The same meal that once haunted me every time my mom packed it for my school lunch has now become a key solution to my weekday lunch struggles. I am, of course, talking about canned fish "salad." And for those who are wondering: No, I've not yet fully recovered from hearing the dramatic moans of my fellow classmates when I'd pull out my fragrant tuna fish sandwich.

My school lunch trauma aside, tinned fish are a staple pantry ingredient that can be transformed into a hearty and delicious, chilled salad for sandwiches, wraps, toast, or my personal favorite, a dip. I love to use tinned fish to make a quick fish salad and then dunk whatever veggies or chips I have on hand until I'm satisfied. Weekday lunches are often an awkward task to work into your busy day, but look, you need sustenance to get you through the afternoon. So, grab your go-to tinned fish — whether it's smoked salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines — and a bowl, and let's whip up a dip.

pate of smoked fish with sour cream and herbs, close-up

Start With Your Base Fish

Every fish dip needs a base fish (this is a term that I have made up). What I mean by this is that you need to pick a star fish (no, not like Patrick) to serve as the backbone of your dip. Smoked salmon, trout, and tuna are probably the most common. If you want to incorporate smaller, saltier fillets, like sardines or anchovies, that is a great idea; however, I would not recommend relying solely on these tinier fish. Use a couple as more of a flavor accent to your base fish. Fish that are packed in oil are going to offer more richness than water-packed, but you can use either. Once you've landed on what fish you'll use, remove the fish from its tin and gently flake it with the prongs of a fork. Keep in mind, you don't want to completely pulverize it into uniformity — go for a mixture of bigger and smaller chunks.

Add Something Creamy

In order to balance out the brininess of the fish, you're going to need a creamy fat to act as a backdrop for those flavors. Mayonnaise is the ideal addition (Kewpie is king, in my book) to round out your tinned fish dip, but you can definitely experiment with incorporating other creamy ingredients like Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, sour cream, or a ripe, mashed avocado.

Add Something Acidic

Because tinned fish tends to be salty, it's crucial to mix in an element that's nice and acidic to brighten up the whole dish. Chopped pickles (or prepared pickle relish), pepperoncini, or pickled red onion, along with some of their pickling juices, are all convenient options. Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce bring a touch of acid along with a good deal of umami to the dip. Freshly squeezed lemon juice or your favorite vinegar (think sherry, apple cider, or red wine) provide an easy route to achieving the tangy balancing note you're after. Feel free to mix and match some of these ingredients to create a more dynamic tasting dip.

Add Something Crunchy

When it comes to a tinned fish dip, I'm all for one that boasts a serious crunch. And it's easy to do. Finely dice raw celery, cucumber, scallions, red onion, or even carrots to add a bit of textural excitement to your dip. You could sprinkle some chopped, toasted nuts on top as well.

Add Some Spice

No tinned fish dip is complete without at least a little heat. Simply stir in a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce, minced jalapenos, or a pinch of red chili flakes to take your tinned fish dip up a notch.

Serve It Up

Give your dip a taste and make sure it's adequately seasoned with salt and pepper. From here, the only thing left to do is serve the dip with assorted crackers, toasted bread, and veggies. The beauty of this pantry-inspired fish dip is that you can enjoy it as an effortless solo meal, put it out as a casual snack for folks to munch on while you wrap up dinner, or serve it as an hor d'oeuvre at a holiday party (try sprinkling the dip with fresh herbs for an elegant touch in this case). You can make as much or as little as your situation warrants, the amount of effort exerted will remain about the same.

If you have leftovers, transfer the dip to an airtight container and it will stay fresh in your fridge for another 2-3 days. While you're at it, pack it for lunch the next day and ignore any haters at the cafeteria table. They don't even know what they're missing.


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