Unassuming in size yet bursting with bold flavor! That is how I would describe the much-loved but oft maligned anchovy. It is awesome that such a puny-sized creature could elicit the emotions that it does.
According to a 2005 article from the Smithsonian, online, anchovy love is recorded as far back as the Greco-Roman era when they devoted much time and resources to salt- preserving this beloved aquatic creature. We see this continued devotion in Spain’s small salt houses where skilled workers lovingly prepare the fish: “[anchovies are] gently washed in fresh water and manually de-boned; a skilled worker can finesse the bones from more than two pounds of anchovies per day. The fillets are laid out to dry overnight and hand-packed in retail-size glass jars or commercial-size plastic tubs, which are then filled with sunflower oil,” which allows the fish’s flavor to shine through (Hall, 2005). We don’t really think about all the work that goes into prepping this tiny mighty of the sea, but reading about it helps to put things into perspective. NPR’s Kitchen Window series gave anchovies another chance in a 2009 segment that rhapsodizes its pungent qualities and its umami effect. Umami seems to mean savory for some and my boyfriend recently described it as the sensation you get when eating a nice juicy steak. But the author’s point about how people who dislike anchovy do so because they have not learned how to balance it in a dish was pretty smart. I guess if you throw a hundred fillets on your pizza and expect a restrained, sophisticated eating experience, you might be disappointed.
Also, I learned that this little fish fed a lot of poor people during the Middle Ages due to its once abundant numbers which makes me like it even more. I am, myself, indebted to the anchovy as I find it a brilliant ingredient in my kimchi recipe. I know some like fish sauce for their recipe, but when more pungency is in order, go fish fillets.
Recently, I tried a treatment on the venerable jar anchovy that I like to use on zucchini just to see what would happen––the basic method is to your toss your sliced zukes in flour and dip them in beaten eggs and fry them in a little oil until golden brown…
But, really, dipping anything in egg and frying it up would probably taste good! I haven’t tested that theory out on very many things but maybe that’ll be my next project…
So for this anchovy project, get your ingredients together:
anchovy fillets packed in oil
1. Separate your anchovies, gently. Sprinkle with flour (you could dip into flour if you’d prefer). Heat your pan with a little oil. I used the oil that the anchovies were packed in.
2. Beat an egg with a little bit of water until frothy and well mixed.
3. Dip your anchovy in egg and place gently in your hot pan. Fry until golden. This will be fast!
Mmmm, salty sweetness!
You could eat this salty dish with some rice and veggies. A little will go a long way.