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Why Anchovies Deserve a Second Chance

by Toni Lydecker

             I gained new respect for anchovies in Camogli, a fishing village on Italy’s Ligurian coast. Hanging around the harbor, I watched a fisherman split silvery anchovies with a thumbnail and deftly strip out the tiny, neatly formed skeletons. That night, in a restaurant, we tasted fresh anchovies glossed only with a little lemon juice, as fishermen are said to eat them on their boats. They tasted delicately and irresistibly of the sea. Could this be the same fish loathed by so many pizza eaters?
            Yes and no. An anchovy is an anchovy, but few of us have tasted them fresh.  Even in Italy, most anchovies are preserved when plentiful, in early summer. If this is done well, the anchovies taste stronger, more savory, than when fresh. Anchovies are an oily fish (think omega 3 fatty acids) and highly perishable, so preservation must commence promptly. The cheap canned anchovies most readily available to us are often poor quality--mushy, filled with tiny bones and emitting an unpleasantly fishy odor.       
            Instead, consider paying more for properly filleted anchovies preserved in olive oil or whole anchovies in sea salt, available by the ounce at a good deli counter or from online sources such as www.zingermans.com or www.chefshop.com; Recca, a Sicilian company, is a good brand. Because preserved anchovies keep indefinitely, they’re a convenient ingredient for solo cooks.
            Using sparingly, good-quality anchovies melt into a marinara or other sauce, adding depth without announcing their presence. But sometimes I like to use enough anchovies to make their presence deliciously obvious. I might strew a few fillets over a crusty slice of pizza or a fennel, orange and caper salad.  One of my favorite uses is in an oil-based pasta sauce—and, when I’m eating alone, there’s no need to ask whether anyone objects to anchovies.



Makes 1 generous serving

1 heaping teaspoon kosher or sea salt
4 ounces linguine
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and slivered
2 to 3 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped*
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
Red pepper flakes

Combine 6 cups water and the salt in a medium saucepan over high heat. When the water boils, add the linguine and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook the garlic for a few seconds until golden. Off the heat, add the anchovies. Stir in the the lemon juice and parsley.

Drain the pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the saucepan with the anchovy-oil mixture, stirring in the reserved water as necessary to coat the pasta with the sauce. Season to taste with red pepper flakes.

* If using whole anchovies preserved in salt: Under running water, rinse off salt crystals, lift out the skeleton and tear off fins, if any. Rinse away any remaining debris.

© Toni Lydecker


Toni Lydecker
writes often on Italian cooking and is the author of Serves One: Meals to Savor When You’re on Your Own. For more of her writing and her cooking demo schedule, visit www.tonilydecker.com.

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