Anchovies take a bad rap these days, especially at pizza ordering time. However, anchovies have remained classically important in many cultures since the beginning of recorded history.
In Greece, fish sauces found popularity. Named garum, it was first processed along the Black Sea. In the first century, the Greeks were the first to preserve an over abundance of fish in salt. It wasn’t long before the Romans developed a passion for fish, and concocted a fish sauce they named Liquamen, a popular sauce and made from fermented fish entrails. Liquamen processing took place in Pompeii, Antibe and Leptis Magna.
They made a favorite snail dish where they fattened snails on wheat, wine and milk until they became so large they could not retreat into their shells. These were then fried, topped with liquamen and served with wine. Once the anchovies, layered with salt, stored for a few months, the whole mixture becomes a clear liquid. Still later, in the 2nd century, in Alexandria, the Egyptians developed a fish sauce named Asafoetida. Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar and naturalist, stated in the first century, that allec paste was also used to treat burns.
The Bay anchovy, related to the herring, has the scientific name: Anchoia mitchillia, with a lifespan of seven years. Anchovies travel in huge, dense schools and are easily captured, preferably during waning moons, with round-haul nets.
The anchovy market of today shows harvests were greatest in South America and Asia in 1999. The US imported approximately 9 million lbs. of anchovies in 2000. They are more commonly sold in jars or cans, filleted, salted and packed in oil, sometimes rolled around a caper. Some choose to make them less salty by soaking them in water for 30 minutes, then patting them lightly with a paper towel.
Anchovies are high in protein and essential amino acids required for proper growth. They are rich in B vitamins, especially B12 and pantothenic acid, riboflavin and niacin, with lesser amounts of calcium, phosphorous, iodine, lysine and iron.
What has made anchovies so important in classic recipes over time is when used sparingly, they impart a subtle flavor. Traditional recipes which rely on anchovies are Bagna Cauda, Remoulade and Putanesca Sauces, also Ceasar Salad and Salad Nicoise’. For years these tiny fish have been an important ingredient in early English ketchups, also Harvey’s Sauce, Gentleman’s Relish and currently used in Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, Sauce and Green Goddess Dressing. The Provencal dish, Anchoiade, contains anchovies mixed with crushed garlic, oilive oil and a bit of vinegar. Another local dish, Tapenade, is a relish made of anchovies, olives (black or green) and capers.
- Mash and add as little as one anchovy to liven up tomato sauces, fish sauces, deviled eggs, stews, salad dressings and vegetables.
- To make Liquamen Sauce: boil anchovies, water, oregano and salt over high heat for 10 minutes until reduced about a third. Strain thru a strainer, add grape juice, pour in jar. Keeps for weeks, refrigerated.
- In France and Italy anchovies are mixed with tomatoes, almonds, lemon juice, herbs, olive oil and pounded into a paste. Spread this mixture on French bread and bake 15 minutes in a hot oven. In Corsica, they add figs and sweet red peppers.
- Make “Mock Caviar,” a Victorian treat made with anchovies, parsley, chives or shallots, pounded with olive oil and lemon in a mortar.
- Mediterranean gazpacho known as Capon de Galera calls for a pound of bread crusts soaked in water with anchovy filets, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and olive oil.
- Tonnato sauce is an anchovy/tuna mayonnaise flavored with lemon juice capers and served with cold, sliced veal.
- Anchovy relish: Make a paste of anchovy fillets, butter and spices, to serve with grilled steak, roasts, poached eggs or grilled mushrooms.
- Anchovy Linguine calls for garlic, olive oil, parsley, anchovy filets and white wine mixed together and served over cooked pasta.