My big sister once saved me from the clutches of a bully at the bus stop by standing in front of me with her hands on her hips and a cocked eyebrow of caution – because sometimes we all need a little back up.
And the same can be said when it comes to the kitchen.
I’ve been a Patron of the Tin for as long as I can remember and every January I reinvigorate my support for canned foods because they’re perfect for making back-up meals and the thought of venturing to the supermarket for fresh ingredients feels as horrible as putting on a pair of wet jeans. We’ve all been there right? Returned home, smelling of the cold and in sodden boots, with rumbling tummies demanding they be filled with something hearty and comforting, only to find that the fridge is as bare as a bow-tied Chippendale? Enter the stalwart tin!
The thing is, how do you make stuff in tins taste less tinny when you’re craving slow-cooked stews, fruit crumbles and gravy-topped roast dinners?
Here are my simple tips:
1. Amp up the texture
SWEETCORN: A tin of sweetcorn is yummy chucked into some pasta or tuna mayo as it is but why not take it up a notch by dry-frying it on a griddle and transforming it from squishy to roasty? Dry the kernels very well in a cloth first and toss them in the pan until they begin to slightly char before using them as a topping for salad or adding them to a mixture of flour, egg and milk for some smoky-flavoured veggie fritters.
POTATOES: You can use the same technique with tinned new potatoes to make them deliciously crisp around the edges or, if you’ve got some extra time, bake them like roast potatoes on an oven tray with some hot fat and a sprinkling of dry herbs, garlic powder or paprika. Alternatively drain them, add a couple of spoonfuls of stock-cupboard mayo and spike with mustard to make a one-minute potato salad to pair with pan-fried fish (or even tinned mackerel and a slice of sourdough toast). For rich mini-gratins, pour seasoned double cream over sliced potatoes placed in an oiled muffin tin and sprinkle with cheese and panko breadcrumbs before baking.
2. Revise old favourites
TOMATOES: Yielding and perfectly ripe, tinned tomatoes are made for rustling up quick pasta sauces when cooked down with onion, garlic and meltingly-soft canned anchovies.
CORNED BEEF: Throw in a tin of corned beef and layer up the tinned ragu with pasta sheets and a jar of béchamel to make an almost 100 per cent store cupboard lasagne. It’s not your typical lasagne but it makes corned beef go much further instead of being used for simply sandwiches and hash (which, by the way, is also scrumptious when topped with a mixture of crushed cornflakes/crisps and cheese and popped under the grill).
3. Bean up
BEANS: Tinned chickpeas, cannellini beans and kidney beans are my favourite canned foods. Mash them with tinned potatoes and warming spices to make meaty-textured bean burgers or fry them with onions, canned tomatoes and your favourite spice paste to make a vegetarian curry served with rice. Adding beans to a pan of golden brown onions, bubbling chicken stock and rice makes a hearty pilaf and jumbling kidney beans with a packet of tortilla chips, jarred jalapenos and a sprinkling of cheese makes for instant nachos. The only thing I’d mention is to buy your beans from either Asian grocers or from the world section of the supermarket because those brands tend to be much softer and smoother in texture.
4. Hail the liquid lunch
COCONUT MILK: I’m a teetotal Muslim so the phrase "liquid lunch" means quite something else to me (yes Jane, put down that gin and tonic). Heat a dash of tinned coconut milk, fish sauce and soy sauce with chicken stock to make a fragrant broth that you can toss veggies (even frozen!), chilli and dried noodles in to make a creamier version of a vegetarian pho.
5. Don’t be a snob about dessert
FRUIT: Tinned fruit is super sweet and although it might be a little mushy who cares when it’s baked with a crumble topping and served in a bowlful of vanilla-scented tinned custard? (Just wash the syrup off first if the fruit tastes tooth-achingly saccharine.) Pour that same custard over some slices of buttered bread or leftover croissants, sprinkle on some cinnamon and pop in the oven while you eat your nachos for a cosy Autumn pudding. Finally, if you’ve got something fresh in the fridge, use it. Even the smallest sprinkling of fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon or an assembled side salad will transform the tinned into the tempting.