Anchovies get a bad rap. It’s not their fault; in fact, it’s really the fault of pizza, or — more appropriately — the pizzaiolo who thought that draping pungent little fish fillets, dripping in oil over the surface of one of the world’s most perfect foods was a good idea. Most palates, even those of children, instinctively recognize mixing fish and cheese is usually a no-no (especially soft cheese with stinky fish). But if you skip the pizza and start over, you can come to appreciate a fish that can be flavorful (neither overly salty nor fishy) and is one of the healthiest and most sustainable foods on the planet (with more Omega-3s and calcium than any other fish and no mercury thanks to its place on the food chain and short life).
Italians, who cherish the anchovy, feature them in a myriad of ways beyond pizza including fried whole and as fillets in stuffed zucchini blossoms. The best way to use anchovies, though, is to make the fillet a supporting part of the dish rather than the fishy centerpiece. The key is to dissolve the fillets in the base of the dish when the aromatics (onions, garlic, carrots, celery, etc.) are being softened in lipid. For example, with a simple pasta with garlic and olive oil, add a layer of complexity by folding a couple of jarred anchovy fillets (rinsed of salt, if so packed) in with the garlic being lightly browned in olive oil.
The same process can be applied to vegetables sauteed in a garlic and olive oil, with broccoli rabe being especially receptive to the flavor enhancements of anchovy (see the rabe/anchovy recipe below). For a more complex meal, say a lamb roast, add four or five fillets to the mirepoix before the vegetables are translucent; the result will be a base that informs the braise with a distinctive yet mysterious savory layer unattainable through any other ingredient. There’s also a slightly more forward use of anchovy, which is as a main ingredient of “bagna calda” — a “hot bath” of blended anchovy, garlic, butter and olive oil into which raw vegetables and bread are dipped and enjoyed as a finger-licking appetizer.
Anchovy and Broccoli Rabe Medley
- kosher salt
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, tough, non-leafy stems removed
- ¼ cup Extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 anchovy fillets, drained (if packed in oil) or rinsed (if packed in salt), chopped
- pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Cook the broccoli rabe in the boiling water for 1 minute (until it becomes bright green). Remove from the boiling water and plunge immediately into the ice bath. Keep submerged until cool. Remove from the bath and let dry. Rough chop the bunch.
Coat a large sauté pan with the olive oil. Add the minced garlic, anchovies, and crushed red pepper. Bring to a soft simmer. Once the garlic is slightly brown and the anchovies begin to dissolve, raise the heat slightly, add the broccoli rabe and toss around in the oil/garlic/anchovy mixture until evenly coated. Add more oil, if needed, and season with salt. Serve immediately.
Published on Men’s Journal Post: Cooking with Anchovies, the World’s Healthiest, Most Versatile Fish