AndyTalk: Anchovies, Especially White Anchovies, Rock ... Thanks To Salt and Umami
Brown (Tinned) Anchovies
More than half of the anchovy haters in the world have never actually tasted an anchovy. I just made up that statistic, but I'm pretty sure it's true, if not actually a bit conservative in the estimate of non-taster-haters. I can state from observation in my cooking classes that anchovies top the list of foods people love to hate - and a lot of people ultimately confess to never having eaten a single anchovy.
Few among us are immune to socially imposed food prejudices. I have no plans to taste dog food, even though it's supposedly fit for human consumption. But anchovies are a delicacy, and dog food is not.
A few weeks ago I got some white anchovies at Whole Foods. In the days when Trader Joe's regularly carried them I considered white anchovies a staple. White anchovies (also called boquerones) come in the dairy case packed in mildly vinegared oil. They're not particularly fishy; no more so than canned tuna. Canned anchovies - the brown ones packed in oil - are fishier. The two types of anchovy start out the same, but the manner of processing intensifies the fish-factor of the tinned variety.
Anchovies are a flavor-enhancing semi-secret ingredient in all sorts of classic recipes. Worcestershire sauce, a lot of pizza sauce recipes, Puttanesca sauce, remoulade, Caesar salad dressing, Salade Nicoise , and Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm) are anchovy-inclusive.
To entice you - consider a White Anchovy Martini. If you like even a hint of dirt in your martini you'll love some icy shaken vodka with an anchovy garnish. White anchovies and shaved onion on toast points or crackers make a great appetizer. I can't get enough of a white anchovy sandwich with fresh orange segments and greens.
If your objection to anchovies is that they're too salty, you're right. I'm not telling anyone to eat them like popcorn. Mashed up into a sauce they're a flavor enhancing salt substitute. In fact, anchovies are a great source of umami - the fifth of the five basic tastes. Anchovies were clearly spawned with a dual purpose; to make food taste better and to stir up culinary controversy.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.
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