CHICAGO (WLS) -- The term "canned seafood" usually implies a tin of tuna salad for lunch, not a luxurious appetizer served in a restaurant. But a new restaurant in West Town is staking much of its menu on high-quality canned seafood, referred to as "conservas" in Spain and Portugal.
If Marcos Campos were cooking in Spain, along the Atlantic coast, he wouldn't have to explain the value of conservas. But in the Midwest, educating consumers about the benefits of high-quality preserved seafood is more of an uphill battle.
At Porto, in West Town - which recently re-opened after being closed for several months - conservas make up a large part of the menu.
"A lot of people think conservas are something cheap, like, I would say underrated," Campos explained. "Those people, these companies are using the highest quality of fish you can find in the market. Because imagine, you have to preserve for almost four or five years."
And there's a lot more than just tuna: plump mussels set over watermelon cubes for his tasting menu; briny sardines, toothsome razor clams. Not only do they pair exceedingly well with a simply grilled piece of bread, they also have benefits related to environmental sustainability and diet.
"I think people are starting to understand that those oily fish are one of the most healthy fish you can eat. Sardines, mackerel, anchovies. Those are actually really good fish for your body," he said.
Mackerel can also be grilled over an impressive wood-burning grill, served ultimately with tiny knobs of carrots, turnips and celery root, then draped in a broth fortified with red onions, vinegar and orange juice.
It's not all seafood - you can have a few slices of the prized Cinco Jotas jamon Iberico to start things off - but if you try anything, be sure to go for the Matrimonio. A "marriage" of two anchovies that provides a jolt of umami, or savoriness.
"You've got the acidity from the pickled anchovy, but the umami and saltiness from the brown anchovy. To balance it out, all these flavors, we do a pickled tomato relish with piquillo pepper, that will give it the sweetness that you are missing. You've got the sweetness, acidity, saltiness, and umami, everything in one bite," said Campos.
The idea of eating seafood out of a can in a restaurant takes some getting used to in America because it has kind of a negative connotation, but the seafood that is canned in Portugal and Spain is of the highest quality anywhere in the world, and you owe it to yourself to try some at Porto.
And if you do happen to buy a tin of the preserved tuna from the restaurant, it does make the best tuna fish salad you've ever had.
1600 W. Chicago Ave.
Porto elevates canned seafood 'conservas' in West Town