You hate Anchovies?!? Are you freaking kidding me, I ask anyone making such a bold and usually uninformed pronouncement? Anchovies are one of, maybe even the greatest flavor enhancing magic carpet ride that mere culinary mortals readily have at their disposal to add a power-packed-punch of umami to any dish. And besides, anchovies are the backbone of flavor to Worcestershire sauce- Lea & Perrins being my personal favorite, and who doesn’t love Worcestershire sauce (the only real open debate is maybe how you pronounce it). You hate anchovies you say – Balderdash!
Anchovies have gotten a bad rap over the years, due mostly to the fact that very poor quality anchovies are found topping the pizzas of those creepy guys who drive panel vans or your great uncle who was in the Navy and smells of moth balls. Anchovies are delicious, at least the good quality whole fillets in oil are delicious. Salty, meaty and packed with flavor, these guys are a power house in the kitchen.PRO TIP: don’t throw out the oil- trust me.
You hate anchovies you say – Balderdash!
You like Caesar Salad? Boom, anchovies are in the dressing. You like Puttanesca Sauce? Yep anchovies are in there too. One of the best New Orleans muffuletta sandwiches I ever had the pleasure of woofing down used anchovies in the olive salad.
Don’t think of anchovies as the main event. Anchovies, unless you are in Spain having Pintxos and washing it down with a ½ dozen cold beers, are generally best employed as the back-up singers of a dish. I dare you; take a skillet, drizzle with olive oil, some fresh chopped garlic, and a few anchovy filets and watch those little guys literally melt into the oil creating a salty-garlicky infused suspension just waiting for a good piece of meat to be seared in, then braised for a couple of hours in tomatoes and red wine- C’est Magnifique ya’ll!
Because of the way anchovies are preserved, in salt, this method breaks down the proteins in the fish allowing them to dissolve into relative nothingness with ease (myosin/salt break down…blah blah, go watch Alton Brown for a good explanation). Just buy some and keep in the fridge after opening; hell, even buy a tube of anchovy paste which is sometimes an emergency go to if I run out of the good stuff.
Marcella Hazan, God rest her cook book writing Italian soul, has been an inspirational cook for decades known for delicious pastas and roasted meats of all varieties. Marcella’s secret ingredient- yep anchovies. Even her famous roasted leg of lamb has anchovies to bring out more flavor. These beauties are everywhere and assuming you don’t have an allergy, they should be in your pantry. That oil I said don’t throw away- use it to make a roux for gumbo, or drizzle over steaming pasta for an instant pop of salty meaty flavor. A platter of fresh bruschetta becomes transcendent with a little drizzle anchovy oil. Why, you ask? Well, ironically, it doesn’t taste like fish at all. It just tastes rich, kinda like the best crispy bits of a cast iron fired, salt encrusted, steak made love to a bit of truffle and parmesan cheese. Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch but you try it and then come back to me with an apt description.