Anchovies — A Belittled Fish

November 13, 2013

I know the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully.
~George W. Bush

About time to return to the laptop.

Too often undervalued, even maligned and disparaged in American kitchens, anchovies are another super food, brimming with protein, calcium, vitamins E and D, and a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. For shame to the naysayers, as given their ambrosial and versatile traits (from oh, so subtle to slightly audacious) as well as their nutritional potency, anchovies should approach an obsession. Think Caesar salad, puttanesca, tapenades, piedmont eggs, nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce), salade niçoise, to name just a few.

Omega-3 fatty acids refer to a group of three polyunsturated fatty acids termed α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is rooted in walnuts and some vegetable oils, such as soybean, grapeseed, canola, and flaxseed, as well as in some green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish. They are essential nutrients for human health, and research has suggested that omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides, control blood clotting, help build neural cell membranes, combat depression, and reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

From the fish family Engraulidae, small and delectable anchovies are commoners who reside in salt water — oily skinned, foraging creatures with some 144 species scattered throughout the world’s temperate oceans and seas.

They are greenish fish with blue reflections due to a silver longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal fin, ranging from a tad less than 1″ to about 16″ in adult length. The body shapes vary with more slender fish found in northern climes. The snout is blunt with tiny, sharp teeth in both jaws and contains a unique, bioelectric rostral organ, believed to be sensory in nature, but whose precise function is unknown. This organ does however allow the anchovy to flourish in murky, troubled waters. The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, though anchovies closely resemble them in other respects. Anchovies dine on plankton and recently hatched fish, known as fry.

When shopping, choose anchovies packed in glass where their now reddish-brown bodies are visible, rather than those packed in tins. They should also be packed in olive oil rather than lesser quality cottonseed or soy oil but should be patted dry before use.

The salt packed versions are whole little fish preserved in layers of sea salt which need to be boned before using — a simple finger pull on the skeleton. Then, they should be soaked in water, whole milk or buttermilk for 10 minutes or so to remove some of the salt and afterwards patted dry. They take an extra step or so, but most chefs and avid home cooks prefer sardines of this ilk.

In either event, these deified dainties are a far cry from the low quality, off flavored, unbalanced, pungent anchovies that reek on carry out pizzas in the states.

ANCHOVIES ON TOAST

Thick slices of artisanal bread, such as ciabatta, toasted and cooled
Unsalted butter, room temperature
Anchovy filets (superior quality), prepared as above

Toast sliced bread and allow to cool, so the butter does not melt. Rather thickly slather the room temperature unsalted butter on one side of each slice of toast. Arrange anchovy fillets in a diagonal on the toast with amounts to your tasting. Then, savor.

CHILE AIOLI

2 t chile powder
2 pinches of cayenne pepper
1 C mayonnaise, homemade (see below)
2 anchovy filets
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Combine the spices, mayonnaise, anchovy and garlic in the bowl of a blender or a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Blend in bursts on high speed until smooth.

Mayonnaise

4 large organic egg yolks, room temperature
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl. Do not use a plastic vessel.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.

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2 Responses to “Anchovies — A Belittled Fish”

  1. pinkdeaf1 Says:

    Sooo pretentious…

    Nah, I’m joking. I share your anchovy sentiment – not because I already have a positive bias towards anchovies, but also because you provided adequate enough information to further my adoration of anchovies.

    Another thing: I appreciate the foreknowledge about anchovies, followed by example recipes involving anchovies. I hadn’t seen any blog recipe including anchovies until I saw this one.

    • alaycook Says:

      Thanks much (hope you peruse other entries) — and laughter from joking while grazing on those adored sea creatures has so many positive effects.


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