mmm, anchovies

I love anchovies. I can't get enough of them. They are the perfect salty flavor enhancer, on pizza, pasta, and so many other things. One of my favorite pizzas is a simple margarita base (that's tomato sauce and mozzarella), with calamata olives and anchovies.

Yet when I tell some people about my love for that little salty fish, they shudder. "Eww, anchovies!" they say. I think the people who hate it because they've had ones that have been out of the can for too long. It does get rather strong when it's sort of dried out and stale. Of course, to anchovy fans, the stronger the better sometimes.

The salty-fishy taste is quite universally favored as a base flavor. The Romans used to have a fermented fish-and-salt sauce, called garum. This was made by salting and then fermenting the insides of fish in a vat for several days. This sounds rather disgusting to modern ears, until you realize that it seems rather similar to Vietnamese nuoc mam, or Thai nam pla - addictive, salty/fishy sauces that add just that right "hidden flavor" to so many things. (There is also a Japanese version of this type of fermented fish sauce called shottsuru.)

Back to anchovies though. There are good and bad anchovies. Good quality canned anchovies are smooth, not sort of flaky and bony. Shop around for a good brand. Incidentally, I don't really get anchovies rolled around capers. Capers are best preserved in brine, and anchovies are best I think preserved in oil. They can fit very well together when married into a sauce or so, but those itty rolls of a single anchovy fillet wrapped around a single caper - that I do not understand.

If you are a real anchovy fan you'd like them straight, for example draped over boiled egg slices in a salad, or on top of a pizza. Otherwise, you can try using them as a flavoring first. The anchovy-ness can be tempered with lemon juice, or garlic.

Here then follow two recipes using anchovies as a main flavor. One is for a simple spaghetti with anchovies, lemon, garlic, hot red peppers and pine nuts. The other one is for a tuna, anchovy and caper spread that's great on toast.

Spaghetti with anchovies and lemon

  • 500g / about 1 pound of spaghetti (I like no. 7, or Spaghettoni)
  • 1 50g can of flat anchovies - or two, if you want
  • 1 large lemon
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • 1tsp or more of red pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano, or Grana Padano (optional)

Cook the spaghetti in salted water to the al dente stage. While it's cooking, chop the garlic and sauté in olive oil. Toast the pine nuts gently in a dry frying pan.

Add the anchovies to the garlic and oil. It will spit at you vigorously, so be careful. Smoosh up the anchovies with your spatula. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan. Add the red pepper flakes, and some black pepper. You shouldn't need to add salt, since the anchovies are salty enough.

Add the just cooked spaghetti to the sauce. Add the toasted pine nuts and toss vigourously. Sprinkle with cheese at the table. If you like, add some Tabasco to give it even more heat.

Tuna, anchovy and caper spread

  • 1 small onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 100g / 3 1/2 oz cans of tuna packed in oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 50g can of flat anchovies
  • 3 Tbs capers
  • Salt and pepper

Roughly chop the onion and the garlic. Drain the tuna.

Put the steel cutting blade in the food processor and add the onion, garlic, tuna and the can of anchovies, oil and all. Process until very smooth. Add a bit of extra virgin olive oil if necessary to make a smooth paste.

Take out of the food processor, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the capers.

This is very good on hot toasted bread, It also makes a very good pasta sauce - just add a little more olive oil, or some lemon juice, to make it a bit thinner, and toss with hot pasta.

Filed under:  snack fish pasta

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I couldn't agree more...mmhh.. anchovies. I actually use the ingredients for the tuna spread for a quick pasta sauce, only not processed but rather with the tuna in chunks.
I personaly prefer salt preserved anchovies but only the good ones, i.e. large plump anchovies stored in very salty brine. Only a few Spanish and Southern Italian producers still take the bother to chose the right anchovies for this. With smaller fishes, which is what you usually get on sale, I prefer oil-preserved too: the salt makes them just too salty.

Alberto, the salt preserved ones sound very intriguing. I did have some very fresh-tasting oil preserved ones in Provence a couple of years ago...they were nothing like I've tasted elsewhere, very plump and delicious.

Just writing about anchovies makes my mouth water :)

i heart anchovies. in fact, i thought about making an 'i heart anchovies' tshrt, but of course i never got round to it. not just salty, but also hairy. what's not to like?

There is a difinite anchovy underground forming. You can even find the lovely big white anchovies packed in olive oil at Whole Foods.

Unfortunately, I married an anchovy hater. I will try your recipes, but I have to get my wife out of town first.

Yum, my mouth was watering just reading this. I love good canned anchovies, but nothing beats getting them from places that preserve them themselves. I make a marinated anchovy appetizer from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" cookbook that's great.

Growing up, the pizza you describe used to be called "Napoli". It's a classic and also still my favorite.

Have you experimented with the brine juice of anchovies? I haven't been able to buy any, but heard that it's delicious.

I'm also a big fan of salt-packed anchovies. Even my anchovy-disliking wife will enjoy dishes made with salt-packed ones. A very different flavor, IMO.

Of course, they're hard to find. There are a couple specialty stores that carry them near me, and usually they sell a tin of like 30. They keep for several months once you open them, if you keep them in the fridge, but still.

here in malaysia, we indulge in dried anchovies all the time. they make an evil dried chilli paste.

I was "turned on" to anchovies after working in a pizza shop for several years. The boss had this pizza which customers loved that was just minced garlic, parmesan, olive oil, sliced plum tomatoes and black pepper. Once, he made one just for us and put anchovies on half of it and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

hmmmm. I'm allergic to "most" seafood and have only just recently realised it's not everything .. which has led to a serious seafood binge on the stuff I find I can eat.

I tried anchovies on a take-away pizza and was unimpressed; now, I think I might have been being unfair.

Which recipe is the one for people unsure?

Sylvia, both recipes are for people who'd like to try out anchovies as a flavor, rather than full frontal anchovies as it were. I would try the pasta..the garlic and lemon sort of counteract any of the fishiness of the anchovies that turns some people off. Then, if you like that you can even add more whole anchovies into it, tossing them into the pasta right before serving, chopped up or even whole. (Provided you're not allergic to anchovies of course!)

I used to love anchovies. That is, until a Japanese friend ate them and said they taste just like shiokara. I hate shiokara--not that I've actually eaten it, but the concept is disgusting. Now I'm a little ambivalent about anchovies because I can't get that shiokara image out of my head.

I'm sold. I'm not fond of the anchovies on pizza they make around here, but I tried the tuna anchovy caper spread (minus capers, because I couldn't find any in my pantry) and I really liked it. Brava!

My father turned me on to anchovies at a young age. Pasta Putenesca is a summer favorite around our house, and any salad, pasta, pizza, or just about anything else we make is generally viewed as a vessel for anchovies. When I worked at a pizza resteraunt, and every employee got one free salad a night, all my coworkers looked at me funny for mincing up anchovies into my ceasar (and even with the mass-produced ceasar dressing we had, with anchovy bits,capers, kalamata olives, and a dash of balsamic tossed in, this was quite a meal). I was always the one who was asked to handle the things if a customer wanted them. I never understood this aversion. Thanks for standing up for the little fish that could.

Oh yes Pasta Putanesca is one of my favorites also :) I love that salty/spicy combination.

Forgive me for jumping into this so late, but Maki, do you think that shiokara tastes a lot like anchovies? I am crazy for anchovies, and heck, if shiokara is similar, sign me up.

A guy who worked at a pizza joint bet me a pitcher of beer that I wouldnt eat 10 anchovies. I asked him to make me a pineapple pizza, pour the pitcher and hand over the can! I picked out the perfect, reddish colored cured fellas and munched away. When my pizza was up, I doused it in hot sauce, slapped more little fishies on and had a great dinner, washed down with free beer!

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Great effort! A good article followed by two yummy recipes including those adorable fury little fish we enjoy eating. It's great reading through all the comments too from my fellow brethren in praise of anchovies. Wet/dry, cooked/raw, any way you want to eat them - they are delicious!

I think that many people are turned off by anchovies because their initial exposure is to some awful canned ones that are like salty, greasy, cardboard.

The first time that I really responded to anchovies was in a restaurant. The anchovies on my tomato salad were so good that I asked the waiter to find out the brand that the kitchen used. He proudly brought me a can so that I could write down the name. It was from Spain. I bought that brand for years.

Later I was served even more amazing anchovies in the homes of two different food importers. In both cases the anchovies came in jars, packed in olive oil. One was French, one was Italian. Both were expensive. Both were light on the salt. Sadly, I no longer remember the name of the French one. But I am currently hoarding the last of the Italian (Agostino Recca).