Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Does exactly what it says on the tin

I bought a new cook book last week and if nothing else, it’s giving me a warm sense of well-being.

Jack Monroe’s Tin Can Cook was a conveniently-timed purchase after the previous weekend’s Spam crusade and in the process of buying, I even relaxed one of my cardinal rules on reading: I went for the Kindle version. I know, I know… but it’s not like a had a choice. The Kindle version was 99p whilst the physical paperback was £5.78 – I’m not a millionaire. Anyway…

Claiming to have 75 store cupboard recipes, scooping a copy seemed to be a no-brainer seeing as there has never been a better time to enhance one’s store cupboard repertoire.


I have always known my way around a tin-opener (my spicy bean stew has been honed to Michelin standards and my tuna melts are the stuff of dreams), so I was interested to see if I could be taught something new (and hopefully unexpected).

The other good thing about Kindle (Jeez, I’m losing the run of myself here), is that the download is instantaneous after the purchase. There was none of the usual hoking around for other stuff on Amazon that you didn’t need just so you could have your purchase posed for free (Gawd, but I hate that). Anyway…

The minute it was bought, I cracked open the Kindle app and dove in. What I found was decidedly… unexpected.

“Grab your tin-opener, open your mind and come with me,” Jack asserts in her introduction and instantly her gusto is infectious.

Tin Can Cook, she explains, is her fourth cookbook and it all started when she commenced a blog, following her six months as a foodbank user. A Guardian column ensued and her recipes exploded in popularity and on this basis, it’s easy to see why.

Jack argues that our relationship with canned food is an odd one. Some of high society’s so-called delicacies – foie gras, baby octopus, caviar – all come in tins and yet at the other end of the spectrum some of the cheapest foods available come in tins. The oddness continues… tinned carrots are cheaper than fresh, tinned tomatoes contain more lycopene than their fresh counterparts and tinned sardines provide almost an entire day’s recommended intake of vitamins D and B12.

She tells a short story of one memorable occasion when she cooked a three course meal for a group of diners at a five-star hotel entirely from the cheapest tins in the supermarket.


“They loved their food but their reaction when we did the big reveal at the end, was absolutely priceless. Most laughed, some were embarrassed, one man was memorably apoplectic. Oh, I laughed at his furious notion that somehow tinned potatoes were somehow going to kill him, when moments before he had declared it the best meal he had ever eaten.”

Tinned potatoes! For some reason I’d forgotten these little bleached orbs even existed.

Nor does Jack leave any preconceptions unchallenged and she spends a whole chapter outlining the nutritional content of every tinned element within the book. Everything from last week’s Spam (protein with micronutrients, zinc, potassium, iron and copper) to mandarins ( Vitamin C, beta-carotene, fibre and phosphorous) to spinach (rich in a lot of stuff).

Altogether, Jack makes a compelling argument for can-based cookery and, fresh from my Spam crusade, I was eager to try more. To that end I bought my first tins of potatoes since I was a spotty teenager in college. I also bought spinach (she uses it a lot) and I stocked up on anchovies (which I use a lot anyway). I was disappointed though that I didn’t go through more of the book prior to purchasing supplies. Some of Jack’s recipes sound innovative to the point of bonkers – which is pretty much my modus operandi on a Saturday night.

The first recipe to jump out at me was patatas bravas, that Spanish tapas favourite, which was why I bought the tinned potatoes. After that though, there’s carrot cake overnight oats, for which Jack uses tinned carrots. Innovative or bonkers? I don’t know yet but I’m going to give it a whirl as soon as social distancing allows me to revisit the shop for tinned carrots.

After that there’s black bean daal, for which I’d have to buy coconut milk, and anellini con cacio e pepe (spaghetti hoops with cheese and pepper), for which I’d have to buy spaghetti hoops. She also makes Catalan-style fish stew out of sardines from… you guessed it… a tin. And I would never have thought of putting crab paste into pasta.

So far I’ve followed two of Jack’s recipes and twice I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think that a simple anchovy mayonnaise would become such a great lubricant for chips and I was astonished at the effectiveness of the patatas bravas, which is pictured. OK, for zenith appreciation you’d use fresh spuds and I know for a fact people like my father will be reading this thinking, “Yer man’s eatin’ tinned spuds – his head’s away,” but honestly, these were great. For a tin costing around 70p and with the minimum of extra ingredients and miniscule effort, this is a super addition to a tapas assemblage.

The only difference when it came to the ingredients was that instead of paprika, I used smoked.


100ml of cooking oil (Jack doesn’t specify but I used olive)

1 tsp of dried chilli flakes

1 tsp of paprika or smoked paprika

500g tin of potatoes, drained (and one eaten with salt immediately for the craic)

salt and pepper


First make a chilli oil. Blend the oil, chilli flakes and paprika until combined. Set aside.

Drain the spuds and cut each in half and place cut side down in a large, non-stick frying pan.

Pour half the chilli oil over the top, turn things up to a medium heat and fry, turning now and again for about 15 minutes, until the spuds are crisping at the edges. Add more oil if things dry out a little but if you don’t need it, keep the rest of the oil for the next time, as there will definitely be a next time.

NOTE: The oil tended to spit a little with me, hitting me now and again with its mini eruptions on my arms. I’m a tight lad though, so I survived without crying (too much).

To serve, Jack advises simple seasoning. I did this but I also went a step further and added a dash of crema (mayonnaise mixed with sour cream, salt and a little lemon juice). A crisp beer and the whole plate disappeared faster than you can say, “Yer man’s head’s away.”

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