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Scout Canning's Charlotte Langley on why we need to rethink canned seafood

Chef Charlotte Langley started Scout Canning to pay homage to high-quality canned fish – and tells us how it can be a sustainable delicacy.

Scout Canning's Charlotte Langley

Tinned food has a rep for being a classic cheap eat; a throwback to student days when you sometimes just ate baked beans straight out of the can (just us?). But, says Scout Canning's founder Charlotte Langley, it's actually a sustainable delicacy. In fact, in Spain, they crack out a seriously good tin of anchovies – along with cava, natch – for special occasions. 

Langley has been working to shift North American perceptions of canned seafood – and Scout Canning's range of premium tinned delights definitely helps. From the seacuterie selection to the canned lobster and organic Prince Edward Island mussels, these are all items that would be worthy of a celebration (and might just make a bloody nice gift, too). 

On conserva culture

When I was looking to preserve fish in different ways, I wanted to make sure that the quality would last. I wanted to pay homage to the high-quality canned food found in European culture. North America doesn't have a conserva culture [preserved food packaged in cans] – we have a commodity culture. So how do we effect positive change within that and get people to try canned fish from Canada or North America that's produced with amazingly sourced ingredients?

At Scout [Langley's seafood brand], everything from fish to fork is well-sourced. Everyone gets paid well along the chain. Everything [we sell] is fully traceable, fully sustainable, renewable and delicious. It's chef driven, so it's not tuna in water or salmon in water – there's nothing wrong with those products, but there's an association of them being kind of icky. Canned fish isn't sexy in North America, but I'm looking to hopefully influence that.

On the freshness of seafood

When you take a species from the ocean that's wild, let's say lobster for example, it's harvested during the lobster season, which is in June and October. Prince Edward Island is where we work with our fishery, and all our lobster comes from there. When that lobster is harvested, then we can it straight away. We're not harvesting something out of season; we're not pushing it to the back of the freezer and bringing it back out to can later on.

We're harvesting it exactly when the season is available. So what's really great is that you're getting a much fresher product than you would actually think. A lot of products that you get in the grocery store are frozen, or previously frozen. It's been slacked, which means it gets thawed in the store. Everything goes to the store frozen and they will slack to order for the fish shelf. Even though they will say it's fresh and it looks fresh, it's been thawed.

Properly canned fish is caught at its peak

On mislabelling and traceability in the seafood industry

Traceability is a way for us to ensure that the proper species has been harvested and not something else. This is really important. That’s why we work with gold certification standards that are third-party audited, like the Marine Stewardship Council, who I also happen to be the chef ambassador for in Canada. I've worked so closely with them to understand how this auditing system works. For example, halibut's popular because it's beautiful. It's also higher on the price list.

People are finding species that are similar to halibut, like a white rockfish, the lingcod or other European species that are similar in flavour, colouring and texture, and selling them as halibut. By doing that, they're harvesting a species that is under-loved and not recognized or protected, and they're capturing it all and using it however they want. Mislabelling means that they're lying about what it actually is. And then we can't protect the species that are being harvested if we don't know what they are. So that's important for understanding ecosystem health around species.

On the chain of custody

When you're operating within a chain of custody, from fishery to consumer, you need to ensure that every hand that touches it along the way, from fisherperson to monger all the way to retailer, is following guidelines to guarantee where the species is coming from. That's really important.

There's been lots of mislabelling out there. Focusing on the highest-quality ingredients, which is what Scout does, involves working with our like-minded partners like MSC, with local farmers and local artisans. We really are working to demystify where our food comes from and the path it takes to reach you.

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