Jack Monroe on the art of cooking with tinned cans (not that you're stockpiling, of course...)

Cupboard full of tins for the first time in years? Here's how to make all those canned foods go further – and taste better

Man holding cans of food
People are stocking up on long-life goods Credit: Tim Gainey/Alamy

With self-isolation and coronavirus-induced stocking up of cupboards upon us, making the most of tinned and frozen staples is becoming crucial to cooking again. I’m cautiously not advising that you stockpile dozens of each; panic buying begets panic buying, especially in the age of social media, and leaving nothing on the shelves for your neighbours isn’t exactly fair. But if you find yourself unable to shop for a period of time, the things you keep in case of an emergency make a real difference. 

These recipes aren’t exactly haute cuisine – they were originally written for my book Tin Can Cook, aimed at foodbanks and potential Brexit hiccups in food supply chains, but they are surprisingly delicious, and will see you through difficult times without having to compromise on taste or nutrition. Tin-coated iron cans have, after all, been serving us for two centuries; dreamt up in 1809, they were used to supply the Royal Navy in bulk by 1820, with Heinz’s baked beans and cream of tomato soups becoming iconic by the early 20th century.

People are dashing to buy tinned goods Credit: KarpenkovDenis

Around three billion tins are thought to be sold in Britain each year. And since the Covid-19 outbreak, I’ve been contacted by countless readers who have begun cooking with the much maligned can for the first time, or revisiting forgotten classics, using my recipes as a baseline for preparing for potential self-isolation. They are simultaneously balanced and nutritious - while canning can cause a slight loss of some vitamins, notably vitamin C in some fruits when heat-treated, a detailed study by the University of California found that “freezing and canning processes may preserve nutrient value. Frozen products lose fewer nutrients initially because of the short heating time in blanching,” they found, while “exclusive recommendations of fresh produce ignore the nutrient benefits of canned and frozen products.”

Nutrients from pantry goods are more desirable than having none at all: here’s what to get, and how to make it work best.

Jars

Lemons preserve well in jars Credit: Getty

Anchovies: are a good source of protein, and the fats are mainly Omega-3 fatty acids. One serving contains more than 20 per cent of an adults’ recommended daily intake of vitamin 3: add them to a can of tomatoes with a handful of olives and a pinch of chilli for a very basic puttanesca sauce to toss over pasta.

Artichokes: can be bought very cheaply if you know where to look in the supermarket; usually with the pickles and antipasti, and sold sliced and in oil or a briny vinaigrette. The ancient Greeks and Romans used artichokes to treat digestive complaints, and they are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, while being a source of magnesium, dietary fibre, and vitamins C, K and B9.

Cockles: A seaside favourite, cockles also come in tins at most supermarkets. They are a good source of vitamin B12, iron, iodine, selenium, omega-3 and phosphorous. Toss through pasta with lemon and pepper, or a tomato chilli sauce, for a quick and protein-packed meal, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous (or have a lot of unexpected time on your hands!) make a simple batter and shallow fry them for cockle popcorn, which is an absolute delight.

Lemons (preserved): High in vitamin C, which does not seem to be adversely affected by the process of preserving them, and unusually for a lemon you can eat the whole thing – skin and all – providing some extra fibre rather than just squeezing out the juice. Add a tangy lift to spicy stews, tagines and curries, and pep up salad dressings and warm bean dishes.

Tins

Baked beans: Look out for the low-salt and low-sugar versions of these, which are a source of magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and copper.

Beef (aka stewed steak): A good source of protein – even from a can. It’s rich in vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6. I use it to make a slow cooked steak and lentil ragu, a beef and ale pie filling, or simply in an entirely heretical but very delicious bourguignon.

Carrots: Known for being a source of vitamin A (beta-carotene), carrots are also a good source of vitamin K.

Coconut milk: It contains a mixture of saturated and non-saturated fats and is a good source of potassium. Use it in curries, as a base for soups, or for baking in luxurious breads.

Mandarins and peaches: These are high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, and dietary fibre. Mix with oats and yoghurt for a breakfast bircher, or toss into a salad, use as the sweet base for a spicy curry, or simply enjoy as a snack.

Potatoes: Canned potatoes are a source of vitamins B6, C and fibre. They also contain some copper, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, vitamin B3 and pantothenic acid. Ideal in a stew, soup, to pad out a curry, or to make a passable saag aloo or bombay potato with. Or toss in mayonnaise, capers, and plenty of black pepper for an instant potato salad.

Tomatoes: Virtually fat and cholesterol free and and a source of vitamin C. They also contain the antioxidants beta-carotene and lycopene that become more absorbable with cooking. Use a couple of cans of tomatoes to make a basic pasta sauce with herbs, garlic, a dash of oil and vinegar and a pinch of salt and chilli, and then freeze it in ice cube trays to use at a moments notice.

Tuna: An excellent source of selenium; vitamins B3, B12, protein and a source of vitamin B2. Serve warm over poached eggs and gently fried potato slices for a hot twist on a nicoise; fold through pasta with a cheesy sauce for a childlike dinnertime treat, or simply mix with mayo and lemon and pepper and pile thickly into a sandwich or pitta bread for a speedy but satisfying snack.

Jack Monroe has a feijoada recipe which uses tinned fruit and beans

Tin Can Cook by Jack Monroe (EPUB, £4.99).  Buy now at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514