Midnight pasta. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
If are not an anchovy lover, before your eyes glaze over and you turn the page, I need to tell you right now that anchovies are magnificent, you just don’t know it yet.
may have struck a big chunk of one in a caesar salad or on top of a pizza and found them to be overpoweringly strong, pungent and salty.
Anchovies are all those things but, like fish sauce (which is made with anchovies) they also have this chameleon ability to add a depth of flavor to whatever dish they are used in. Amazingly, when added into a dish, the anchovy taste actually disappears, leaving behind only a rich deeply flavored, lip-smacking umami effect, with nothing fishy about it.
Unless, like my husband Ted, you are a total anchovy fan and enjoy devouring them whole, straight out of the jar, it’s this umami quality that makes anchovies so useful.
Blend them into butter with garlic and a little lemon rind for a delicious steak topping, puree them with olives, garlic, lemon rind and oil for a fabulous tapenade, or stud anchovy pieces into a leg of lamb with slivers of garlic and some finely chopped rosemary before roasting.
When you heat anchovies with a little oil or water they disintegrate, forming a starting point for so many excellent sauces, dressings, crumbs, toppings and stuffings.
Once you’ve opened a can or jar of anchovies, you need to ensure the remaining fish are covered in oil, as otherwise they will oxidise, turn gray and start to soften.
The anchovy belongs to the Engraulidae family, of which there are 140 odd species. Anchovies can be found around the globe: the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, however, their range tends to avoid very cold or very warm waters. Engraulis australis (kokowhaawhaa), the southern anchovy is found in New Zealand waters and large schools often turn up in the Hauraki Gulf. You will rarely find fresh anchovies for sale here, however, largely because they are so perishable and also because culturally we don’t have a tradition of eating them.
Engraulis encrasicholus species, otherwise known as the European anchovy, is the most popular in the world (outside of Asian anchovies, which are – pardon the pun – another kettle of fish entirely, being dried rather than canned or jarred) and can be found off the coasts of Europe and Africa, including in the Mediterranean. The fish are migratory and move in huge schools, traveling thousands of kilometers throughout their life in search of food. Being a pelagic species (along with sardines, tuna, mackerel, kahawai, trevally and kingfish) anchovies have oils throughout the fillet and in the belly cavity around the gut, rather than only in the liver, like white fish.
The Ortiz company (which to my mind produce the MOST delicious anchovies) is a fifth generation, family-run company established in 1891. These anchovies are exclusively fished from the Basque coast and are prized for their superior flavour, quality and texture. The anchovies are preserved whole in oak barrels with coarse sea salt for six months before being individually trimmed and filleted by hand and then canned in oil. Spring is the anchovy fishing season, between the months of April and May in Europe, when the fish school into shallower waters. On the scale of sustainability, anchovies are one of the most sustainable species, largely thanks to respect for the short window of fishing being upheld.
I always keep a can or two of anchovies in the pantry, even the simplest of dishes are elevated with just two or three of these tiny tasty little fish.
Anchovies, garlic, chile, tomatoes, olive oil: doesn’t get much better than this. Better still, it all cooks in one pot.
Ready in 30 minutes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
60g can anchovies in oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp chilli flakes
4 chicken stock cups
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
500g dried spaghetti or fettuccine
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp capers
Heat oil in a deep 16-20-cup capacity pot. Add anchovies, garlic, tomato paste and chilli flakes and fry gently, stirring to break up anchovies, for 2-3 minutes.
Add stock and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add pasta, mixing it into the sauce as it softens and stirring to prevent clumping. Bring back to a boil, stir again, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just al dente (about 10 minutes). Check often near the end of cooking to ensure you don’t overcook it, the secret is to have some bite still in the pasta.
Add olives, parsley and capers, and stir to combine. Serve at once straight from the pot.
Broccoli with crispy anchovy crumb
I often make this tasty crumb in bulk, it’s so useful to toss though vegetables, garnish a pasta dish or give a bit of crunch to a salad. The crumb is also a great way to get kids to eat broccoli – there’s something about the depth of flavor of the crumb and the way it matches up to the broccoli that is incredibly moreish.
Ready in 30 minutes
Serves 6 as tapas or a side dish
2 medium broccoli heads, cut into small florets with stems, or 500g broccolini
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
A pinch chilli flakes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Rind of ½ lemon, finely zested
3-4 canned anchovies, chopped
2 thick slices ciabatta or sourdough
¼ cup parmesan, coarsely grated
2 Tbsp lemon-infused oil, or extra virgin olive oil mixed with a little lemon zest
Preheat oven to 180C. Prepare broccoli or broccolini. Heat oil in a frying pan and add chilli, garlic, lemon zest and anchovies with their oil. Gently sizzle 1–2 minutes over medium heat, stirring to break up anchovies, taking care not to burn the garlic.
Tear up bread and place in a food processor. Add the oil and the parmesan and blitz to a rough crumb. Spread out on a baking tray and bake at 180C for 10–15 minutes until golden and crispy. (This crumb will keep crisp in a sealed container for up to a week, or can be frozen.)
Bring a big pot of water to the boil with 1 tsp of salt. Add the broccoli or broccolini and cook for 3 minutes, so it’s still crunchy and green. Drain and cool quickly under cold water. Drain well, drizzle with lemon-infused oil and season with salt. (Broccoli/broccolini can be prepared to this point a couple of hours in advance.)
When ready to serve, mix through crispy crumb and transfer to a serving platter.
Such a versatile sauce, and one of those recipes that everyone has their own take on. Adding a hard-boiled egg yolk makes the sauce really creamy, leave it out if you prefer. It’s also good as a marinade – really nice on lamb or chicken and fabulous spread over fish before baking.
Ready in 15 minutes
Make 2 cups
1½ cups (2 big handfuls) parsley leaves, de-stemmed
1 handful chives (about 40) roughly chopped
1 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp capers
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
ground black pepper
¼ small red onion, chopped, or 1 chopped spring onion
1 small tin (60g) or 8-10 canned anchovies
Yolk of 1 hard-boiled egg, optional
Puree all ingredients until smooth. Keeps in the fridge in a covered jar for at least a week or can be frozen.
Match these with
by Yvonne Lorkin
San Marzano Notte Rossa Primitivo 2019 ($18)
If I’m ever autopsied, my insides will reveal I’m actually an 87 per cent mix of pasta, tomatoes, olives, garlic and red wine. They can use me for research purposes into the perfect meal for lifelong sustenance. Salento is the “heel” of Italy’s “boot”, a stunning southern province in Puglia. Translated, this wine means “red night” and I love the child clinging to a ladder reaching for the moon on the label. But being a health and safety manager, Mr Lorkin felt it was an irresponsible image. “Where are the ladder’s anchor points? Why is a small child out playing in the dark?” As his brain exploded, I chose to focus on its intensely savory aromatics, its deep blueberry and cherry flavours, alongside its smooth, woolly complexity and prickly astringency. Great!
(Broccoli with crispy anchovy crumb)
Misty Cove Landmark Series Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2021 ($20)
Step away from the sauvignon blanc, sashay sideways from the chardonnay, tell the pinot gris to pinot go and roll right past the riesling, because the only thing you’ll want to imbibe with spicy, salty crumbed brassica is this gorgeous gruner veltliner. Pronounced “grooner velt-leener”, this Austrian powerhouse has settled nicely in New Zealand and is driving white wine lovers loopy with its apple and nectarine niceness, its floral intensity, its rich, refreshing textures and its creamy finish (I love a creamy finish ). Gruner ist der Beste.
Rapaura Springs Bull Paddock Dillons Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($25.90)
The ironical thing about salsa verde is that it’s mostly served with things like rare roast beef or steak – things you’d normally pair with a rich, meaty, woof-inducing red wine. However, if you were going to just hoover it on its own (and why shouldn’t you?) or sip something sensational while you’re whizzing it up then this gooseberry, guava and lime-layered lovely will be perfect. Grown in an old bull paddock in one of Marlborough’s most sought-after sub-regions, its intensely powerful herbaceous characters are elevated by whipcrack acidity, perfectly prickly, weighty textures and marathon length of flavour.