It is amazing how much of what we like to eat is effected by our childhood. One of the best examples of that in my mind, is the anchovy. From an early age, most kids are exposed to these tiny salt water fish with advanced warnings and stories of the “weirdos” who eat them on their pizza. Little tiny fish on pizza? No way! So just like I did, these same kids grow up assuming they hate anchovies, avoiding them like the plague. Yet, what about that delicious caesar salad or that flavorful puttanesca sauce. What could possibly be giving these dishes that punch of flavor?
Interestingly enough, the flavor most often associated with anchovies comes from the brining method used to preserve the little fillets. In fact, the fresh anchovy flavor is much milder and therefore much easier to enjoy. But it is the bold flavor that comes from the canned or bottled version that can add a much needed boost to a number of dishes. (Another great alternative for those still shy of using the fillets is the increasingly available anchovy paste. The paste is often located right by the canned tomato products in the market.)
One of the most obvious places for the anchovy flavor is a seafood dish. I had been really craving calamari and although it is delicious fried, I actually enjoy it more when it is quickly sauteed or blanched. I decided to cook the calamari and a few cockles in a sauce prepared with fennel, onion, garlic, and poblano pepper along with a bit of Brooklyn Summer Ale, clam juice, and just a bit of that anchovy paste. The dish was rich in seafood flavor and with just a squeeze of lemon only one thing was missing.
There is nothing like sopping up a delicious sauce with some warm bread. Especially when that bread has great flavor as well. Slathering the crusty french bread with a garlic and anchovy butter proved to be exactly what this dish needed. The flavors of the dish came together and the duel use of anchovy paste is what really made the difference. I finished the dish with a handful of pea shoots I bought at the green market earlier in the day adding a crisp freshness that rounded out the meal.
Luckily, our eating phobias can be overcome and our childhood memories can be overlooked but it does take a bit of faith. The anchovy really is a wonderful ingredient and whether or not you know it is there (worcestershire sauce) you probably have liked it in the past and probably will in the future. Just remember, it never hurts to try…