2010 June: Secret of the Sea

Anchovies have quite a reputation. While most people either love or hate them, the truth is that they are so much more useful than most operators realize. Let’s take a closer look at these magical little gems of the sea to see how versatile they really are. You may be surprised at where anchovies can be found.

First, these little fish are preserved by being salted in brine, matured, then packed in oil or salt. That’s how they acquire their characteristically strong flavor. In Roman times, they were the base for a fermented fish sauce that was a staple of their cuisine.

Due to their strong flavor, most recipes use anchovies in moderation. When used correctly, they blend in well and can offer a rich flavor while remaining unrecognizable. (Many people cook with Worcestershire sauce but don’t realize that it contains anchovies. That’s just one example of how they blend in nicely to your recipes.) Consider buying anchovy paste as opposed to whole anchovies. It will make it easier for you to work with.

I’ve recently shared an olive tapenade recipe with you that includes Kalamata and green stuffed olives, capers, garlic and olive oil all pulsed together in the food processor for about five beats to give a coarse chop to it. Adding chopped anchovies would obviously add texture and flavor. If you wanted to enhance the flavor without the texture of the anchovies, then simply add a little anchovy paste.

Putenesca is a lovely, not to mention healthy, sauce that in a sense can be started with tapenade mixed with tomato sauce and again enhanced with chopped anchovies.

Of course, way back when I was in culinary school, I learned how to classically make a Caesar salad by mashing fresh garlic and anchovies into a paste before adding egg yolks and lemon juice to create the dressing for a Caesar salad — then once the romaine lettuce and Parmesan cheese and croutons were tossed in that bowl, the salad could be garnished with anchovies as well. Whether the dressing was made in house or not, servers would ask guests if they wanted anchovies on their Caesar salad because many customers didn’t want them. Now it’s rare to even find a restaurant that offers anchovies on their salad.

Anchovies are most commonly packed in oil.
This helps keep these little guys preserved well. If you buy anchovies for your pizzas and salads, don’t be so quick to discard that oil. As I said, it acts as a preservative, but it can also be incorporated into many of your recipes adding to and enhancing your dishes. Adding anchovy oil will give just a subtle flavor without being overpowering and will not add the saltiness of the anchovies. Think about starting with some of your salad dressing recipes.

Speaking of salad dressing, I remember as a child a popular dressing called Green Goddess. I found out that this creamy, herby dressing was invented at the historic Palace Hotel in San Francisco in the 1920s in honor of William Archer’s hit play “The Green Goddess.” It enjoyed great success, especially in California, for decades. I think it may be making a comeback, and why not be the one to re-introduce it in your neighborhood! Try this recipe:

Green Goddess Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1⁄2 cup sour cream
1⁄4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped Italian fl at leaf parsley
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns

Combine all of these ingredients and place them in a blender. Blend them well until you get a smooth texture and you will find that your greens will give this dressing its nice color as well as flavor. 

Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert.