Celebrating the Anchovy

How many times have you come across a delicious Italian entrée, not quite able to pinpoint exactly what produced such a magnificent flavor? More often than not, the mysterious ingredient that made the meal so memorable was, in fact, the lowly anchovy. To create truly authentic Italian dishes, you simply can’t ignore these tiny fish any longer.

The key to cooking with anchovies is moderation. Most recipes require very few of them. When used properly, they should blend in and be completely unrecognizable to the palate other than lending a rich flavor. Try moving beyond the basic antipasto or pizza. Anchovies work well to flavor tomato sauces, fish sauces, dressings, vegetables and meats such as chicken and lamb. Mix a tiny bit with a stick of butter and your favorite herbs to create a tasty spread for hot, crusty breads.

Canned and filleted anchovies are cured in salt and brine for approximately two months and then packed in oil. The saltiness of each tin can vary a bit, so it is important to always taste a newly opened can of anchovies before using them in a recipe. If they are too salty for your palate, rinse the fillets well in warm water and then pat dry on paper towels. The oil is usually discarded, but if desired may be used in salad dressings or sauces in lieu of whole anchovies. This will have a stronger flavor, so you may wish to use a combination of oils. Don’t add salt until you’ve tasted the mix. If a recipe calls for anchovy paste, you can make your own by simply mashing anchovies to a paste consistency (1 anchovy fillet = ½ tsp paste). Never leave leftover anchovies in the tin. Remove them, curl them into rolls, put them in a small airtight container, cover them with extra-virgin olive oil and refrigerate. For the most intense flavor, use them within six months.

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