For something so small, the humble anchovy is surprisingly polarizing. The little forage fish ranked as America’s least-favourite pizza topping in a 2016 Harris Poll. Two years before, it took the top spot on a survey of Britain’s most hated foods.
The collective consciousness appears to rank anchovies just above Marmite (objectively, the worst), which is surprising for a few reasons: brined in vinegar and packed in olive oil, the salty, little fillets are both versatile and tasty (stay with us!).
Popular in diverse cuisines (from Spanish to Indonesian), anchovies function like salt: they provide seasoning for a dish and, when not the star of the show, blend into a meal harmoniously. Their secret? Chock full of glutamic acid, they translate to umami on the palate.
The trepidation with which home cooks approach opening up a can of these salty little suckers is unsurprising: for starters, they have a pungent smell (a result of the solution they’re cured in — fresh anchovies are actually quite mild). This, along with the fishy taste, can be off-putting. But remember: you’d never enjoy a teaspoon of salt solo, but the seasoning is indispensable in amping up flavour.
Still not sold? For inspiration, here’s a few ways different cultures from around the world use anchovies — and some easy ways to try them at home.
A Victorian-era snack enjoyed for decades in the U.K.’s House of Commons, Scotch Woodcock is a savoury dish of creamy scrambled eggs on toast, topped with salty anchovy fillets.
Baby steps: Instead of salt, chop up one fillet and mix into your scrambled eggs before serving.
Only the British could have created Gentleman’s Relish, a salty, fishy paste of anchovies, butter and herbs. Try it spread thinly on buttered toast.
Baby steps: Use Gentleman’s Relish (you can order online) as a baked potato topping or add a teaspoon to beef stew for a flavour punch.
Pizza with anchovies
Apart from pineapple, anchovies might be the most contentious pizza topping in existence. Yet anchovies were one of the first toppings used when pizza was created in Naples in the late 18th century.
Baby steps: We’re serious! These salty fillets make a great pepperoni substitute — chop finely and sprinkle on your pizza for a whomp of extra flavour
Without anchovy fillets, Caesar salad dressing would be lacking its essential salty, tangy goodness. In fact, anchovies are so vital to this classic recipe, they’re even present in the Worcestershire sauce used in any good dressing.
Baby steps: Need to pump up the flavour of a peppery, green salad? Try chopping a fillet into a basic Dijon, wine vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette.
Sambal Teri Kacang
An Indonesian specialty that puts anchovies (either fried or dried) front and centre, sautéed with peanuts and sambal, a ubiquitous Malaysian/Indonesian hot sauce. Anchovies are actually prominent in many Asian cuisines, appearing in fish sauce and Korean soup broths.
Baby steps: Use fish sauce to accent homemade South East Asian-style curries, or in Thai-flavoured marinades rich with lime juice, sesame oil and sugar.
A pescatarian, pizza-like concoction hailing from the south of France, pissaladière sees a crust of dough or puff pastry topped with finely chopped, caramelized onions, black olives, and, traditionally, anchovies arranged in a lattice formation.
Baby steps: Think of them next time you make an olive tapenade — they’re a common ingredient in this French purée of olives and capers that’s great as a dip or salty spread.
The bright, salty sauce for this classic Neapolitan dish combines crushed, canned tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and anchovy fillets for a summery bowl of noodles.
Baby steps: Squeeze an inch of anchovy paste into your next basic pasta sauce and your tomatoes will sing.
The Spanish have a real affinity for anchovies, which they typically prepare twice-cured: first in a salt bath, then in vinegar. When the little fish are ready to eat, they’re seasoned with olive oil, garlic and parsley, and served on their own with potato chips or as a salty accent on a variety of tapas.
Baby steps: Mince and fold them in to butter or mayo and serve on the side as a sandwich spread or dip for french fries or fried fish.
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