Yes, we are Puxisardinophile! Puxisardinophile are the lovers of sardine cans - whether filled or empty as a collector's item. Although I have to say, I prefer them filled.
One of our favorite sardine brands comes from Portugal, more precisely from Matosinhos, about ten kilometers northwest of Porto on the Atlantic. Because in this port city is the Fábrica de Conservas Pinhais, the Pinhais canning factory, which we were allowed to visit on our last Porto trip.
And after this visit, I can say: Actually, it's more of a fish factory than a factory - but see for yourself!
“We recently received a shipment of sardines that are being processed. Come, I'll show you how we do it here at Pinhais." says Nuno Rocha, the sales manager, and takes us to the Conserveira.
Beautiful, large, thick sardines lie in marble basins. The skin is shiny and intact, with a silvery shimmer on the belly. It doesn't smell like fish, just a little like the sea.
A dozen ladies of all ages stand at the marble basins and with a single movement of their hands remove their heads and innards.
The gutted sardines end up in plastic trays and are carried by hand to the next marble basin, where the sardines are placed on wire racks for later cooking. These wire racks ship individually! by hand! immersed in a circular basin of fresh fresh water by the workers before being placed on metal trolleys which are then wheeled into the cooking chambers. I immediately feel reminded of a bee colony: the individual movements and processes appear as harmonious and orchestrated as a ballet, there is a busy and lively activity and as a visitor you should be careful not to disturb this work flow and one of the ladies in the to put away!
Unlike the Breton sardines, the Portuguese sardines are not fried beforehand, but steam-cooked for 10-12 minutes at around 100 °C, up to around 95%. The remaining 5% is cooked in the can during final sterilization, but more on that later.
In my opinion, the spicy preserves taste particularly good with Pinhais, both those with oil and those with tomato. Because they're not just hot, they're so much more... And that's because of the other ingredients that go into the can along with the fish and the chili pepper: clove, pepper, bay leaf, gherkin and carrot. All these ingredients are also cut by hand and placed individually in the tin.
During our visit we met Madame Laurinda (seen in the photo on the right), who would retire two days after our visit. She has worked at Pinhais since 1969, an incredible 49 years, and even after all these years she was enthusiastic about her work.
Mise en place is important. This is what a prepared work table looks like. The metal racks with the cooked sardines will later be placed here. The workers cut the sardines to the perfect size and place them in the cans.
What is really striking about Pinhais: the almost complete absence of machines and assembly lines. Only the oil is filled into the cans by machine and a machine also closes the can with the lid. Incidentally, unlike Breton sardines, the oil is not cold-pressed olive oil of the very best quality, but a good, but rather neutral olive oil. When asked about this, Nuno said that this was done in Portugal so as not to distort the taste of the sardine in the can with too strong and dominant oil. It is almost a different philosophy than the French. So if you fancy a good oil dip with a Portuguese sardine, just do it like the Portuguese do: pour the oil out of the can and simply add a good dash of the best olive oil of your choice to the sardine...
After the cans have been closed, they are briefly cleaned in a water bath and then sterilized in autoclaves, huge pressure vessels for sterilization, at 110 °C for 60 minutes. Sterilization finishes the cooking of the sardines, also preserves the cans and destroys any germs.
Finally, the finished cans, which are usually unprinted at Pinhais, are wrapped in paper by hand. Finished!
We were really impressed by how much care and love is put into the work here. It's really handwork. And how clean it was in the Conserveira. The Maître said he would eat off the floor here without hesitation. But we prefer to eat our sardines out of a can! ;-)
Finally, here are a few more impressions:
The Portuguese laurel dries in the attic and is then cut into small pieces. Of course by hand.
The Maître and Nuno:
And above all, Mary watches over the wall. This is very important, especially for the older workers. The bell that rings the lunch break and the end of the day is also not entirely unimportant ...
And now all I have to say is: to the can, get set, go! Pair it with a nice crisp Portuguese white wine and you’ll instantly feel transported to Matosinhos Beach…