Review: Fishwife And Fly By Jing's Newest Tinned Fish Collaboration Is A Sweet And Spicy Catch

Tinned fish is an ingredient of authentic beauty and adaptability — whether mixed into a sauce or the star of a sandwich, it's loaded with possibilities. Not to mention how long it can hang out in your pantry without issue. As tinned fish continues to get the attention it has always deserved via social media, two brands who have combined efforts before are at it again. Fishwife, a female-run tinned seafood company founded by Becca Millstein and Caroline Goldfarb in 2020, and Fly by Jing, a Sichuan sauce and spice company founded by Jing Gao, a chef and expert on Chinese cuisine, have dropped a new collaboration: Smoked Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Zhong. 

The first collaboration between these two brands came in 2021 with a tinned smoked salmon with Sichuan chili crisp that was an absolute hit for fish and spice lovers alike. It has continued to be Fishwife's best-selling item. Once again, the two have teamed up for a flavorful mind meld, showing how valuable a can of smoked salmon can be, especially when amped up with the proper sauce.

To write this article, I tasted the fish straight from the can on its own and in a few of the recipes listed on the Fishwife website, judging for taste, versatility, and price. I received promotional samples of this product for review, however, this did not impact my feelings or opinions about the Fishwife and Fly by Jing Smoked Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Zhong.

What is Fly by Jing & Fishwife Smoked Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Zhong?

Fishwife's new collaborative smoked salmon is an ode to so many things. First, it celebrates three years of partnership with Fly by Jing. Second, but equally as delicious, this new collaboration is a nod to Zhong dumplings, a popular street snack from Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan province. The pork-filled dumplings are pan-fried and steamed, then dunked in the Zhong sauce to complete the bite. The sauce is sweet, spicy, tangy, and rich in umami. A Zhong sauce regularly includes neutral oil, garlic, ground chili powder, toasted sesame oil, and Sichuan sweet soy sauce. Fly by Jing's sauce is made with a sweet and aromatic "fuzhi" soy sauce, brown sugar, mushrooms, garlic, and spices. 

Fishwife and Fly by Jing put the Zhong sauce to good use by using it as the flavor base for its smoked salmon. The salmon is sourced from Norway, raised without antibiotics or chemicals, wood-smoked in small batches, and hand-packed in Washington by a fifth-generation family-run cannery. Ultimately, this product shows that even something like tinned fish, which is so deeply routed in culinary history as a regular pantry staple, can still look and feel new and special.

Price and availability

According to Fishwife's website, the founders of Fishwife and Fly by Jing first developed this collaboration three years ago. However, it's only just recently become available to the masses. The product is only available for a limited time, so if you're a tinned fish enthusiast and don't want to miss out, we recommend getting an order in as soon as possible. As long as the gold-label tin is still available, you can purchase it via Amazon or directly from the Fishwife website, as well as in person from a variety of specialty shops around the United States that carry Fishwife products.

The smoked salmon with Zhong sauce is $39 for a pack of three. Compared to Fishwife's other three-pack products, $39 is a significant spend; Fishwife's slow-smoked mackerel pack is $32, the smoked rainbow trout is $30, and the Cantabrian anchovies are $27. The $39 price tag certainly puts this in a more premium category and may be more than most would be willing to spend. Still, for a unique, limited-time product like this, we consider the price tag to coincide with something that is being marketed as more luxury than standard.

Taste test

The best way to understand this product is to break it into two parts: the fish and the Zhong sauce. The fish is smoky and tender, with some caramelization for added sweetness. Get in there with a fork: the fish is flaky and not as stiff as most tightly-packed fish tend to be. There are also a few pieces of salmon skin in each can, which is far saltier and chewier than the meat — it's worth removing if you're not a fan of salmon skin — and the aroma isn't overly fishy, which for a salmon product, is a relief. Primarily, this is a can of mostly salmon with a few pieces of skin, and the three cans we tried had no bones in the meat.

The sauce has a nice viscous consistency and is savory with a noticeable but not too aggressive kick of heat. There's also a good ratio of fish to sauce; each can we received had about three meaty filets in it with enough sauce to coat each piece and leave some extra at the bottom.  

That said, the savory sauce combined with the smoked fish is a salt bomb. If you're eating this straight out of the can, a little squeeze of lime juice can help to add the right acidic note to balance everything out. If you're using this for an appetizer or main course, don't bother reaching for an extra pinch of salt; it's all right there in the can.

How to eat it

Unlike so many of its tinned fish siblings, smoked salmon with Zhong sauce is packed with such deep, rich flavor that it does the best work when acting as the star in a dish. Whereas most canned seafood dishes need additional seasoning and spice to complete them, this salmon has the potential to be the main protein and flavor component in various recipes rather than merely playing a supporting role.

Fishwife provides a few suggestions for how best to enjoy the it right on the box: "Over a steaming veggie rice bowl, mixed into freshly packed onigiri, sandwiched in a spicy salmon melt, and naked — straight out the can." Luckily, the versatility of the fish makes it ideal for these suggestions and so many more.

In its simplest form, this is an ideal addition to any cheese or charcuterie board. It could even replace the typical smoked and salted meats with a more tender and flavorful protein to accompany a hard, aged cheese and some fresh, crunchy veggies. Mix this into a spicy dip to serve alongside chips, amp up your standard tuna salad sandwich by swapping out the plain canned tuna, or fry it for the ultimate smoked salmon patties. For the tinned fish purists, this is also the perfect topper for nothing more than a slice of toast with a thin shmear of unsalted butter.

Fishwife and Fly by Jing Smoked Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Zhong vs. Smoked Salmon with Sichuan Chili Crisp

Fishwife has various tinned fishes to choose from, but the collaboration with Fly by Jing for the smoked salmon with Sichuan chili crisp has undoubtedly been its most popular product. Made with Fly by Jing's Sichuan chili crisp, it is a simple but necessary cap tip to a condiment that has made its way into kitchen pantries worldwide. A three-pack of smoked salmon with Sichuan chili crisp is also $39, making this an equally memorable and pricey collaborative item.

The significant difference between these two items is what accompanies the fish: Zhong sauce and Sichuan chili crisp, respectively. On the one hand, Zhong sauce has a variety of flavor components that work together to deliver something profoundly complex. That kind of versatility makes it amenable to any number of dishes, from scrambled eggs to roast pork and a whole lot in between. 

On the other hand, Sichuan chili crisp leans much heavier on the spice aspect, and while it's also packed with delicious umami flavor, it doesn't have quite the same versatility. For those who may not be self-proclaimed spice lords but want to indulge in a well-rounded and flavor-packed bite without quite as much heat, the sweet and spicy Zhong is our choice.

Is it worth it?

Before getting to this specific tinned fish, having any preserved meat or fish on hand is always worth it. Regardless of what meal you need to whip up, the kind of snacky mood you're in, or just how hungry you happen to be, tinned fish and meat are there for you to mold and shape into anything you want. That said, the Fishwife and Fly by Jing Smoked Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Zhong is a worthwhile fish to stock your pantry with, as long as you are prepared for the salt content and the price tag that comes with it.

The price for this particular three-pack is a little shocking, especially compared to Fishwife's other tinned fish products. Spending $13 per can puts it in a high-end category of food that is attractive to those accustomed to and comfortable with investing more in their shelf-stable pantry items. That is to say, this is a luxurious canned fish and not a reasonable option for those who shop and eat on a budget. 

For salty fish lovers who want to spend more to upgrade their pantry, order this product while it's still available. However, if you're new to the tinned fish trend and aren't quite sure if this is the right one for you, you may want to start with Fishwife's plain smoked salmon instead ($33 for a three-pack) to test the waters. Then, if and when you're ready for a flavor upgrade, check this one out.