Rejoice, for Raymond Blanc has given us permission to make dinner using tinned ingredients, as he launches the second series of his show about easy cooking, Simply Raymond Blanc, in the UK.
He calls tinned food "delicious", but this might come as more of a surprise to him than to the rest of us – 99.4 per cent of Britons buy canned goods, and the average UK household gets through 600 tins a year.
Although I can be snobby about a lot of foods, things in tins are not one of them. My cupboards are stacked: baked beans for my kids, tinned soups for solitary lunches, plus black beans, borlottis, chickpeas, cannellinis and lentils, which go into everything from crispy corn tacos to smashed white beans with rosemary and garlic, which I serve in place of mash.
I find my stash of tinned sardines, coconut milk and tomatoes very reassuring – it doesn't matter what level of national crisis occurs nor how disorganised my fresh food shopping has been, I can always make a hearty meal that everyone in the house will eat.
And it's not just about pulses and tinned tomatoes – increasing interest in plant-based eating means young green jackfruit, once almost impossible to find beyond south-east Asian shops, is now available in all the supermarkets.
With basics does the brand matter? I buy plain pulses and when they're going to be curried, spiced or smashed into hummus, it's hard to discern any difference. When it comes to tinned tomatoes, you can make a decent sauce year-round with any brand although cheaper tins can, frustratingly, be lumpier, watery and slower to reduce. (It is perhaps the only thing that multi-Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan and I have in common: we are both fans of the Italian tinned tomatoes sold by Mutti.)
Apart from tinned crab – which is sweet, slippery and disgusting – almost any tinned fish is a joy to cook. (And, unlike plastic pouches, tins can be endlessly recycled.)
There is one kind of canned food that I have been unnecessarily snooty about: vegetables. (Actually, two: ultra-processed and low-welfare meat in tins, packets or ready meals has little to recommend it.) But in her brilliant book, Tin Can Cook, food writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe points out that you can use tinned vegetables as a time-saver – things like tinned carrots or peas are already softened and so speed up soup and sauce-making.
Monroe also says that worries about canned food lacking nutrients due to heat treating are probably overstated, citing a 2007 Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture article, which found that "exclusive recommendations of fresh produce ignore the nutrient benefits of canned and frozen products".
All fruits and vegetables will lose some of their nutrients at some point, whether that's through cooking or as they age, and in studies frozen foods and canned foods have been shown to have advantages over fresh produce that has been left in the fridge for just a few days.
Nutrients degrade or are maintained in different conditions – vitamin C disappears if heat treated, for example, while vitamins A and E do much better. It's not always right to favour fresh over preserved, and it's an attitude that can be painful for people on low incomes who depend on inexpensive canned foods.
I'm delighted that Monsieur Blanc has finally discovered tins and an easier, gentler way of cooking, although I'm not sure I can see tinned pies and a side of baked beans appearing on the menu at Le Manoir any time soon.
Top five tins and what to do with them
I make a sardine pasta dish based very loosely on dishes I've eaten in Sicily: cook spaghetti and meanwhile fry a handful of roughly chopped cherry tomatoes, a pinch of fennel seeds (if you have any), a dollop of tomato purée, and a crushed garlic clove. Once soft and sticky, add a tin of sardines in oil, crumbled, a tablespoonful of capers, a tablespoon of pine nuts and a pinch of chilli flakes. Heat through, then toss with the cooked spaghetti and eat. This recipe also works with anchovies.
A few years ago, I published a recipe for spicy baked beans, only to discover later via Instagram that hundreds if not thousands of people were jazzing up their tins in the same way: mix ordinary baked beans with chipotle paste, chilli paste or hot sauce, then eat either on a baked potato or a wheat or corn tortilla, topped with diced avocado, finely chopped fresh chilli, a squeeze of lime juice and some crumbled feta cheese. The same recipe works with tinned black beans.
In winter, tinned fruit, like frozen fruit, is cheaper and more sustainable than cooking with air-freighted and often tasteless out-of-season produce. Raymond Blanc uses tinned pears in his kitchen; I like tinned cherries in clafoutis and tarts, while tinned peaches work well in smoothies, and tinned berries can be spooned over yoghurt or muesli (to avoid a sugar hit, choose fruit in juice rather than syrup, and drain it before use).
I get through at least two tins of chickpeas every week as I don't eat meat or fish from Monday to Friday. Often I make a fast, ad hoc curry with them: fry a finely sliced onion gently until soft, then add half a teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric powder and mild chilli powder. Stir, then add two crushed cloves of garlic and two teaspoons of grated ginger. Cook for a minute, then add a drained tin of chickpeas and half a tin of chopped tomatoes. Simmer until the tomatoes have broken down and no longer taste sour or raw. Season well and serve with rotis, a dollop of thick plain yoghurt and Indian pickles.
Mackerel fishcakes are a great way to get oily fish into kids. Flake tinned mackerel into mashed potato and mix well, then form into patties (add chopped herbs like dill or chives if your kids won't complain about the green bits). Dip into flour, then beaten egg and then breadcrumbs before shallow frying until golden all over. Serve with peas (Raymond Blanc is also newly very pro frozen peas) or a green salad and a quick homemade tartare sauce made with mayonnaise, chopped gherkins and capers and a squeeze of lemon. These also freeze well.