Taste Test

We Put Top Chef Alum Sara Hauman’s Tinned Seafood to the Test

Tiny Fish Co. puts in-your-face spices and sustainability in a can

By Karen Brooks June 9, 2022

Portland cook Sara Hauman is always hiding, but the spotlight finds her anyway. The San Diego native longed to be a cook like her Oregon grandma, making pickles and  weird mayos. But one day at an unpaid internship at Napa Valley's famed French Laundry, visions of the glam restaurant life crumpled. As she tells it, “When someone yells housssssekeeping! and everyone hits the carpet, I knew fine dining was not in my future.” 

Yet hot spots kept calling. At one of them, San Francisco's Mister Jiu's, she nabbed a James Beard rising star semi-finalist nomination—a rarity for a sous chef. In 2018, she sought a new life in Portland, her current home, helming a little-noticed Pearl District wine bar. No Michelin stars here, no worries. Top Chef: Portland found her anyway, and in 2021 Hauman, the best chef Portland never heard of, did the city proud—the charming, yogurt-obsessed dark horse who nearly stole the show.  

Chef Sara Hauman

Her real dream? To get bold and personal … inside of a seafood tin. Hauman's new Tiny Fish Co. is the latest entry in the posh tinned fish movement led by stylish, small-batch, sustainably-sourced brands from around the globe. Literally and figuratively, they are miles away from Bumblebee. Hauman brings her own voice and cheffy vibe via lesser-known, more sustainable Pacific fish like geoduck and rockfish. Call it canned seafood for cooks, adventurously spiced and lightly sauced, something you can snack on, experiment with, or “dump over rice,” as she puts it, for an easy dinner.

Mussels en escabeche with bread

Boxes are designed inside and out with a Spongebob-meets-anime aesthetic, inspired by Hauman’s love of Asian snack aisles, dating back to childhood. Look closely at that smoked geoduck box to  spot a painter clam with Bob Ross hair, a seal getting a tattoo, and a clam graffiti artist pulling a Banksy on a piece of coral. I'm a sucker for great packaging. 

“It's the whole experience, like eating in a restaurant,” says Hauman. “I never desired to own a restaurant. I just cared about cooking. I wanted to make a difference in the world but realized I was just cooking food for people with money and barely making ends meet. This is fulfilling.” 

Look for Tiny Fish Co's first four flavors at Portland's Wellspent Market (which doubles as her distributor) and other grocers. I put them to the test with Hauman and Wellspent's Noah Cable. Here's how they stack up.  

Tiny Fish Co. Tasting Notes & Ranking

4. Smoked Mussels en Escabeche First impression: super meaty mussels with a powerful Moorish vibe—lots of toasty cumin and fennel against olive oil and sherry vinegar. “This is not a typical Spanish escabeche, but bolder in flavor, more in-your-face spicing,” says Hauman, who likes them spooned over hummus or whipped into dips. 

3. Rockfish in Sweet Soy Sauce 
Mild Pacific white fish with a tuna-like flake in a dark, sweet-salty saucy pool spiked with mirin, cane sugar, mustard, and wasabi. This could be the line’s signature, with enough liquid for an instant meal over rice to which Hauman adds pickles, herbs, an egg, and squiggled Kewpie mayo.

2. Smoked Geoduck with Black Pepper 
We should name a state fish after Hauman. She transformed a Northwest creature that looks a demented sweet potato into something akin to tinned Northwest clam bacon—all beefy chew, smoke, cracked peppercorns, and brown sugar. On another bite, paprika notes come on, and the mind drifts to barbecue. Hauman's latest eureka: the GLT. 

1. Octopus with Lemon & Dill 
If I could only eat one Tiny Fish from here to eternity, this is it. How often can you find tender  octopus, wild caught out of Alaskan waters, sitting in a tin of clarified butter? It’s got luxe taste and delicate chew, room temp or heated up. Cable just dunks bread right in the sauce, in the can, while chirping, “It's all dill butter, yum yum, so good.” Who can argue?