Most of us have a love or hate relationship with anchovies. Anchovies: to love or hate?
The anchovy still seems to polarise people. It doesn’t matter whether they’re doused in vinegar, canned tight in salt or preserved in oil, these little fast-growing fish have got us on one side of the fish fence or the other, and to get to the bottom of it is much ado about tasting.
Part of the reason so many people may not be impressed with anchovies is the overly salty excuse for the salted fish that sits on your average pizza. They are small and “hairy” due to the tiny bones on the fish’s fillet.
These commercially processed anchovies are not the finest example of the small fish, of which there are more than 120 species in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans and the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. They can grow up to about 30 centimetres, depending on the species, but in terms of the preserved anchovy, we’re used to the smaller fellows, up to about 10 centimetres.
The anchovy is an oily fish, which contributes to its strong flavour. Whether it’s been preserved or is served fresh, its flavour is distinctive. But like many things in life, you get what you pay for and there is an enormous gap between the cheapest and most expensive of preserved anchovies on the market.
The more well-known of the pricier anchovy is the Spanish Ortiz anchovy that can cost up to $100 for a 450 gram tin. They are processed by hand within hours of being caught and have a pink, fatty, almost creamy flesh that is gently salty and slightly sweet. To the anchovy lover it’s almost criminal to eat these any other way but straight out of the tin.
Frank Camorra, co-owner and executive chef of MoVida restaurants and importer of Cuca Spanish tinned seafoods (including anchovies), prefers these chubby fillets, saying the waters of northern Europe are where the better fish are caught. “Colder waters produce a fatter, larger fish – to me it’s a better flavour.”
The smaller anchovies we buy in tins and jars for a lesser price are often from the warmer waters of the Mediterranean; they are leaner and naturally saltier. They can work well as a seasoning agent, in vinaigrettes, sauces or as part of a paste or tapenade.
In Camorra’s signature dish at MoVida, of smoked tomato sorbet with anchovy, he uses a semi-preserved anchovy from northern Spain (due to it being semi-preserved it must be refrigerated), simply because “the flavour and texture is right for the dish”.
Camorra talks of growing up with anchovies as part of of his regular diet. He says his father marinated them at home in vinegar and oil. These are often referred to as white anchovies and are another flavour altogether. They have a silky fleshiness of texture and a tart, salty finish, which works well in salads, on bruschetta or as part of an antipasti.
Johnny Di Francesco, owner of Brunswick pizza restaurant 400 Gradi, is as passionate about anchovies as he is about his pizza dough, and still finds it hard to believe people don’t like them. But he also thinks it’s about trying as many types as you can, as “when you have a bad experience with a flavour it can stay with you forever”.
Di Francesco uses Italian anchovies from Cetara in southern Italy on his pizzas. “I’ve tried so many and these are the right one,” he says. On his antipasti, he uses Spanish white anchovies.
So if the anchovy still keeps you on the “no” side of the fence, place a few fillets in a pan of sizzling olive oil, watch them melt to become part of the oil and toss through some just-blanched green beans. Or take some white anchovies, mix them with parsley, fennel seeds and lemon juice and put on top of toasted ciabatta bread. Or open a tin of pricey little fish and eat them straight. You just may jump the fish fence.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.