When a cookbook titled 200 Best Canned Fish & Seafood Recipes lands on your desk, there's really only one reaction: That's a lot of canned tuna.

But if you look closely at the recipes from author Susan Sampson, former food editor of the Toronto Star, many are really quite clever. (Did we really just say that about canned seafood recipes?) As Sampson says in the Introduction, “there is a certain snobbery surrounding tinned fish, but it also has fans in the millions.” And if you use the word “tinned” rather than canned, it even has a bit of that holiday cocktail party ring to it.

Fine, maybe not. But those recipes for CBLT (crab BLT with fresh lime juice mayo), Scandinavian dilled shrimp on pumpernickel, and Catalan clams with ham sound much better than the average Betty Crocker-type canned food fare. Case in point: That last one calls for good olive oil, Serrano ham (!), smoked paprika and plenty of crusty bread to mop up the sauce. At least we we finally know what to do with those canned baby clams a neighbor handed over last holiday season. Get more after the jump.

Sampson goes to remind of us of canned seafood's virtues. “When you're pressed for time or money, it's nice to know you can raid the pantry … It's generally nutritious, economical and convenient. A lot of varieties of seafood are interchangeable in recipes, so you can swap what you have on hand.” It also runs the price and quality gamut, Sampson reminds us, as many classic recipes (Niçoise salad, sardines on toast) have long called for higher quality, oil-packed seafood.

Catalan Clams and Ham Recipe; Credit: jgarbee

Catalan Clams and Ham Recipe; Credit: jgarbee

As for the recipes, you'll find things like tagliatelle with tarragon-spiced canned lobster and asparagus, or a spinach and sweet potato frittata if you're more in the canned salmon mood — and you sort of are now, aren't you?

“Express coconut tuna and pea curry,” Cuban-style crab and plantains, and shrimp mac-and-queso are among the one-dish meals. Then there's the “California salad, starring salmon” recipe that we're considering including in holiday gift baskets this year by virtue of its entertaining description: “What is a California salad, anyway? It usually involves tossing nuts and fruit with baby greens, but otherwise it seems to be a free-for-all.”

Actually, this book would be a pretty hilarious (and maybe even fantastic) gift for the budget-conscious creative cooks on your list, just to make an equal opportunity ingredient point. Like your office mate who follows all the latest candied pig ear cocktail garnish trends, but only when they're the Happy Hour specials. And stinky canned tuna office issues aside, the current nose-to-tail and back-to-basic restaurant trend really is all about Sampson's canned seafood motto –“In my kitchen, my repertoire ranges from haute to folksy.”

While you're at it, hand over a good bottle of olive oil. Many of the recipes call for generous pours of good-quality extra virgin olive oil — another pantry product playing in Sampson's quality favor, you could argue. (A new favorite: Gary & Kit's, from Northern California-grown olives, is a great, fruity gift deal at $20.) Toss in a can of cannellini beans and bookmark that recipe page for the very sharable “Tuscan sandwich” (mash the beans with a little olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; spread the mixture on Italian rolls with tuna, sliced red onions, arugula and more good olive oil).

Only 199 more canned seafood office lunches to go.

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