The other day Daniel and I were discussing our overwhelming love of and devotion to anchovies. I was just finishing up this week's Good Appetite column, which is about making an anchovy pan sauce to eat with lamb chops. In the article, I talk about the anchovy-eschewers of the world. Daniel was shocked.
"What? Who are these people? And what's their problem?"
Daniel travels in less food-obsessed circles when he's not with me, and apparently was blissfully unaware that there is a huge anchovy-hating contingent in the world.
So I thought I'd do a little blog post talking about anchovy love, and try to spread the word, and also correct some misunderstandings concerning these tasty little fish.
The first is, good qaulity anchovies are not fishy. They are salty, but they shouldn't be too salty, either. They should taste complex and interesting and a little meaty, and smell like the sea.
Number two: You don't need to buy salt-packed anchovies, then rinse, gut and soak them in order to get your anchovy satisfaction, even if that is what some fish mavens will tell you is the only authentic way to enjoy them. I honestly don't like the salt-packed ones any better than the oily critters.
Just make sure to buy olive oil-packed anchovies in a jar where you can see the fish. They should look fat brown with reddish stripes. Don't buy the skinny ones curled around capers. And unless you know the brand, generally the ones in glass jars are better than the ones in those hard-to-open flat tins. But not always.
Number three: Those terrible anchovies you one tasted on a pizza when you were a kid, the kind that scared you off anchovies forever? Well, you were right. Those tasted dreadful because they were cheap and poor quality. Cheapo anchovies aren't very good, which is why some people think they don't like all anchovies because they don't like the bad ones. I, however, have such a deep love for the saline fish that I even like the crappy ones if they are the only option.
The best brands are usually imported from Italy, Spain or France. I particularly like Ortiz (pictured). These are very pricey, so I don't usually cook with them. Instead I eat them naked as they are, speared on the tiny fork that accompanies the jar. Or see below for more ideas.
Here are some of my favorite ways to use anchovies without cooking:
Add in lieu of salt in a salad dressing
curled up on a halved hard-cooked egg with a dollop of homemade mayo
on top of tapenade spread over a nice piece of toasted bread
wrapped around green olives and cornichon pickles (the little guys)
speared with marinated artichoke hearts
on a bed of fresh ricotta, served with fresh cracked pepper and drizzled with good olive oil
on top of toasted bread moistened with extra-virgin olive oil
And my current favorite: lying on a thick cushion of cultured, salted butter on a sliced baguette.
A tasty fishy dish if there ever was one.
Photos by Olga Massov