Friday, October 14th, 2011 | posted by mike
There is a very small fish with a very big history and a very big flavor- the Anchovy! The big flavor for many people is negative, salty and strong, a fish that is used only on other people’s pizza. Let me try to explain, there’s a lot more to anchovies than something that’s used as an ingredient in Caesar salad dressing or Worcestershire sauce.
There are over 100 species and in their fresh form they are a sweet, buttery and delicious little delicacy. It’s a rare treat when we see fresh anchovies from northern California, but when they’re available people love ‘em. We fry and eat them whole (like you would with lake smelt), or I know that some customers fillet and marinate them in white wine vinegar, olive oil and garlic like the Spanish boquerones or Italian alici. These little fish have played a major role throughout history used mainly as an ingredient. Salted, fermented anchovies were used to make Garum, a highly valued fish sauce condiment used in ancient Rome (the Romans also valued anchovies as an aphrodisiac). A similar sauce used in Southeast Asia, Nam Pla in Thailand, and Nu’oc M’am in Vietnam are ingredients we use at the market almost every day. Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines have their versions too.
Most of the anchovies that we use in the U.S. are salted, pressed, aged, and packed in tins or jars in oil. Whether you’re using fillets or fish sauce, flavors will explode in sauces, stews, stir-fry’s, dressings or marinades. People who think they hate anchovies probably don’t realize the amazing tangy flavor in a good putanesca sauce or the delicious olive caper sauce over that grilled swordfish, probably came to life thanks to our little buddy. Another reason is that many of us have never tasted good quality anchovies. Those dried up, tough, over salty ones on your pizza probably are the cheapest food service anchovies.
When it comes to these fish, you really get what you pay for. At the very least, for dishes that include anchovies, use fillets packed in olive oil. When you need a stand alone fine quality anchovy for special dishes or appetizers like Spanish tapas, Basque pinxtos or an antipasto, use salt packed anchovies or, what I think are absolutely the most delicious anchovy we’ve ever had- Ortiz brand. Foodies and anchovy aficionados will tell you that salt packed are the only way to go. True, some brands are excellent but they require filleting, rinsing, maybe soaking in milk before they’re ready to use. I’ve gone through this process many times and with good results, but I’m telling you Ortiz olive oil packed fillets are a beautiful pinkish color, lighter in salt, buttery, rich, perfectly uniform, delicious anchovies!
The family of Bernardo Ortiz de Zarate has been producing the finest anchovies in the Spanish Basque province of Vizcaya since 1891. Caught in purse seine nets off the surface, these fish are hand filleted, salted, stacked in barrels, aged for 6 months and packed in olive oil. Taste these babies and if you weren’t a fan before you just may become a convert.
Here’s a couple of simple tapas snack ideas. One typical roasted red pepper anchovies tapas and one a bit untypical but very tasty that my son Carson came up with. Enjoy!