CAN THE CAN opened in 2012 with a concept which is unique in the world: to promote the national canning industry, Portuguese tinned food and traditional conservation methods.
Portugal’s long coastline, from early days, has led the Portuguese towards the sea in search for new horizons. In this way a maritime odyssey was born creating a culture of seafood, enhanced by the access to excellent fish. The appropriate conditions – extensive coastline, abundant, high-quality fish, and Portugal’s excellence in the art of fishing – have led to the rapid growth of canning in Portugal, from the 19th century onwards.
The national canning industry was born in Setubal, Portugal, in 1854, to a country with a unique coastal zone, ancestral fishing tradition and unparalleled fish quality. It is also the oldest and most beloved industry in our country.
CAN THE CAN stems from a fascination for this industry, and we aim to dignify it and bring it to a wider audience. Our cuisine is typically Atlantic, defined by the use of natural produce, fish and healthy ingredients. We strive to elevate cans to an exclusive product, through our innovative recipes, with the belief that quality of preparation and presentation can help promote the consumption of tinned fish.
Our cuisine shows that Portuguese tinned fish are an exclusive product, with an enormous tradition and quality, which can be used with a combination of fresh ingredients, highlighting the quality of preparation and presentation.
In 2016 we published the book THE BEST I (N) CAN, with innovative recipes relying on the products from each of the associated companies of ANICP, the National Association of Canned Fish Industry, of which we are members, as a way to demonstrate that Portuguese canning does not mean only “fast food” or “camper”. Portuguese companies have evolved to high quality products which, used with other ingredients, allow for the preparation of highly tasty and nutritious dishes.
At the same time, we investigated the history of the canning industry in Portugal, the hundreds of existing companies, thousands of brands, beautiful packaging, a sector full of “blood, sweat and tears”, one of the oldest industries in the country. On the CAN THE CAN website there is a digital platform called CONSERVAS DE PORTUGAL where it is possible to go through the history of this industry, through packaging, magazine articles, newspapers, brands, companies, diverse objects, books, studies, etc.
This is the work that makes CAN THE CAN sought out by thousands of tourists who want to know our work, which has made Portuguese tinned fish preserves an integral part of Lisbon’s tourist offer, inserted as a leisure complement for the lovers of our national cuisine and culture.
In 2020 we published the book EAT & ART, a book that explores the affinities between gastronomy and contemporary art, having as protagonists the best Portuguese chefs and artists, centering the dialogue on the oldest and most beloved industry in Portugal, the canning industry.
From this project by CAN THE CAN stems a set of 18 works of art around the theme of the canning industry, plus 18 dishes using the produce of Portuguese preserves, captured secularly on our shores; a project that explores the creative component of two apparently distant activities, united by common elements throughout history.
EAT & ART puts the Portuguese preserves at the center of a cultural activity and makes this specialty so noble in its simplicity, an object umbilically linked to our daily life, the engine of an intersectoral dialogue that can result in delicacies designed to satisfy the needs of the heart, head and stomach.
This is a book featuring conversations between creative people, who tell us about the motivations that guided their career options, and give us invaluable contributions though their reflections and stories on the subject.
A chronology made by the researcher Victor Moura Vicente is included in the book, with references to the most remarkable events in the field of art and gastronomy over time, a challenge for the reader to delve into each one of the events.
The project has evolved naturally throughout these eight years, with Miguel Laffan as Creative Chef and Pedro Almeida as Executive Chef for the past two years. Although it is an unusual way of designating the role of professionals in this activity, it explains not only Victor Moura Vicente’s – the author of the CAN THE CAN concept – graphic design background, but also the way we manage this project, where there are no single stars, but what shines instead is the team work, where everyone’s contribution counts.
Chef Pedro Almeida leads, with Miguel Laffan, the experimentation and investigation of the CAN THE CAN conceptual evolution project based on the kitchen of L`And, where they won the first Michelin star for Alentejo, in 2011.
A 27-year-old young chef, he accepts the challenges that are posed to him, bringing proposals after studying and narrowing down on the information he is given, adding value and enthusiasm to it.
This project, which we call SELO DE MAR (sea stamp), aims to study and recover techniques of fish conservation and innovate from them.
The seasonality of raw materials, the wealth of some resources in short periods of the year, in contrast with others with greater limitations, quickly invited the Portuguese to develop conservation techniques, resulting in a great tradition for Portugal in this field, by using mainly the two most important resources, which are abundant: salt and sun.
At CAN THE CAN we promote species considered “minor”, preferably using those that are not valued by the consumer. We seek the full use of fish. It is important to disclose where the fish we eat comes from, to consume species according to the season; knowing how to use the fish, learning the different species and conservation methods is essential in order to obtain the best results.
We seek to use and promote unique species in Portugal, such as “Butter” Horse Mackerel (carapau manteiga). This horse mackerel is characteristic of the coast between Setúbal and Sines and is currently undergoing a qualification process, in order to guarantee the acknowledgement of the origin and the quality of the product. This qualification process seeks to clarify whether this is a sub species or, as it is pointed out, if it’s the existence of underwater rock formations along the coast, favoring the production of algae and plankton, which consequently makes this mackerel tastier.
We can use almost everything in a fish, as we traditionally do with pork. Of the head of larger fish we cure the throat and serve it with potatoes and peas stew. From the head meat tightly pressed we can still make terrine, making use of almost all the fish.
CAN THE CAN currently produces its own muxama, garum, pastrami, bottarga, fois gras, made of liver from diverse kinds of fish, tuna sangacho chorizo with black pork belly, sword fish belly bacon, all using fish from the Portuguese coast.
* Tuna fish muxama is a gastronomy treat, which origins go back to the Arab occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, served mostly in the Algarve, consisting of filleted salt-cured tuna. The tuna is headed by cutting and twisting, followed by two longitudinal cuts on the dorsal and ventral parts in order to separate the total muscle mass, highlighting two pieces called the trunks, which have a triangular aspect and are used for muxama.
We try to promote Portuguese products that unfortunately not everyone knows, such as the Cuscos de Vinhais** (which have nothing to do with the Arab dish Cuscuz), a work pioneered by other Portuguese Chefs such as the brothers Óscar and António Gonçalves or chef António Loureiro.
** Cuscos de Vinhais have nothing to do with the Arab dish Couscous. Despite the similarities in appearance, the Arabian Couscous is a preparation of the cereal semolina, while the Cuscos de Vinhais is made of barbela wheat flour. The Cuscos from Trás-os-Montes are nevertheless a legacy left by North African populations, the European cousin of the Maghreb couscous.
This is a good example of a product 100% national, made with barbel wheat flour, which is then moistened with water and steamed over a fire. It was formerly the substitute for rice and used with various products that combine with the smokehouse of Vinhais. At CAN THE CAN we use this product with different species of national fish.
There are species such as the bush called Camarinheira (Corema album L.D. Don), which produces the “Camarinha”, small wild berries that grow in these dune bushes exclusively along the Atlantic coast of Iberian Paninsula. The Camarinhas have long stopped being collected and traded, existing almost only in the memories of the elderly ones, which makes it nowadays the focus of a study by Aida Moreira Silva and Maria João Barroca, researchers from the University of Coimbra who aim to rescue it. We intend to study the juice of these berries in order to exploit its qualities and apply it to further culinary uses.
In our search for new edible ingredients, such as sea plants, the algae, used in the human diet since the ancient times, raises our interest since Portugal has very little tradition in its consumption, in spite of being a country on the Atlantic coast.
But we particularly intend that the outcome of this project can contribute to the innovation of our national preserves, through the adaptation of diverse techniques and the inclusion of new produce, thus contributing to make this characteristic Portuguese product more and more peculiar and unique.
We want to make an adventure of flavors, colors, textures and stories of each proposal and are always striving for innovation in the way we work with Portuguese preserves and conservation processes.
More than dishes, stories are served and challenges are thrown; we want to play with time and confuse the senses.
CAN THE CAN is located in the noblest site of Lisbon, Terreiro do Paço, where the city opens to the river and the look is lost in a horizon of old sea routes. At the helm are Maria da Luz and Elsa, two confident helmswomen with open smiles. On this pier there are only departures, and if ships were like tins, we may well be the sardines.