Whether it’s mackerel, tuna, sardines, or trout that floats your boat in the tinned fish aisle, a couple of cans of good-quality fish turn a bare-bones pasta into something company-worthy. Tinned fish most often comes packed in either water or olive oil; we prefer them oil-packed because they’re much more flavorful out of the can. (Patagonia Provisions makes an especially delicious tinned mackerel in flavors like lemon caper and Spanish paprika.) The technique for this no-cook sauce, in which you warm the tinned fish in a heatproof bowl set over your pasta pot as the water boils, is borrowed from Joie Warner’s No-Cook Pasta Sauces, and ensures the fish won’t dry out or become tough.
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Place mackerel, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, capers, 3 Tbsp. oil, and ½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt in a large heatproof bowl. Season generously with pepper and toss to combine.
Set bowl over a large pot of generously salted water (bottom of bowl should not be touching water) and bring water to a boil. Carefully remove bowl from pot and set aside. (Gently warming the ingredients here allows them to mingle nicely with the hot pasta later.)
Cook pasta in same pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Using tongs, transfer pasta, along with any water clinging to strands, to bowl with mackerel mixture. Add Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid to bowl and toss pasta with tongs, adding more pasta cooking liquid by the tablespoonful if needed, until cheese is melted and pasta is coated evenly in sauce, about 1 minute.
Divide pasta among bowls. Top with parsley, drizzle some oil over, and season with more pepper. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over if desired.
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Super tasty!. This dish is much better than the sum of its parts. Made it with tuna, and didn't expect it to be that good. I can see myself making this once a week from now on.
I love quick weeknight pastas like this one. I would add more capers (big caper-fan), and be sure to use high quality tinned mackerel in olive oil since lower quality tinned fish is usually way too fishy. Wild Planet was a great, mild choice and melded nice with the rest of the ingredients.
I’ve been wanting to try this because I recently became obsessed with the fish goods section at Trader Joe’s and wanted to put some tinned fish to use. What a waste. The fish completely overpowered the capers, lemon, Parmesan, and any other ingredient that went into it. It tasted like plain pasta with the fish only. It’s not inedible, but I definitely would not try making it again.
San Diego, CA
A variation of this, made with Italian canned tuna, is an old family favorite. Similar to this recipe, we sauté finely chopped garlic in olive oil, then pour that over the pasta (linguine is our choice). Topped with the flaked canned tuna, roasted red peppers, red pepper flakes, and then Parmesan cheese! Simple and so delicious! I’ll need to try with mackerel and capers.