Anchovy power: the secret ingredient you don’t know chefs are using to amp up flavor
By Hilary Meyer, January 15, 2014 - 12:00pm
If your recent restaurant dining involved a super-savory dish that made you drool or a salad dressing that knocked your socks off, the chef might have been using a secret ingredient: anchovies. These tiny cured fish pack a wallop of flavor in tiny amounts and because of that, chefs like to add them to everything from salad dressing to beef stew. You might be turning up your nose, thinking of those salty, shriveled bits on pizza. However, canned or cured anchovies are a totally different taste experience. That’s because they deliver umami—a taste that’s loosely defined as particularly “savory” (the other tastes are bitter, sweet, salty and sour). Umami is an mmm-inducing flavor with multiple layers. Give anchovies a try and wow the eaters in your home. Here are five ways you can use anchovies in obvious (and not so obvious) ways to pump up the flavor of your dishes:
1. Add Anchovies to a Sauce
If you are just warming up to anchovies, you may want to try adding them to a sauce. You don’t need very much to get their flavor-enhancing attributes, and for those of you who find the look of them too fishy, using them pureed in a sauce takes care of that problem. You can also use anchovy paste, which you can find in tubes with other Italian foods in well-stocked supermarkets. It’s exactly what it sounds like: ground-up anchovies. The advantage is that anchovy paste is so finely ground that using just a little bit adds volumes of flavor to a recipe.
Try: Italian Salsa Verde
2. Pair Anchovies with Other Seafood
If you’re a fan of seafood, say shrimp or tuna, but you’re a little cool on anchovies, try pairing the two seafoods. You can use an anchovy fillet or two in a side dish that accompanies your favorite fish or throw some anchovies into the dressing for a Niçoise tuna salad. You’ll get the flavor you’re expecting from the shrimp or tuna, along with an extra boost of seafood goodness from the anchovies. It’s a nice way to get acquainted with them.
Try: Salmon Burgers with Green Goddess Sauce
Green Couscous & Shrimp
3. Add Anchovies to a Salad Dressing
If you’re a fan of Caesar salad, you’ve already tasted the magic that anchovies contribute to salad dressing. Yes, the briny flavor of those little fish is the backbone to a good Caesar dressing—and you don’t need to stop there! Try adding them to a vinaigrette and toss with sturdy, bold-flavored greens like escarole. A fillet or two is all you need to amp up a dressing.
Try: Bold Winter Greens Salad
4. Go Bold and Eat Whole Anchovies!
Ready to go full steam ahead with your newfound love of anchovies? Add whole fillets to salads for big, bold flavor. Anchovies pair especially well with sweet ripe tomatoes. They also are wonderful with briny foods like capers or olives. Just remember, anchovies are salty (about 117 milligrams of sodium in one fillet), so be judicious.
Try: Spanish-Inspired Tomato Salad
5. Smart Shopping Tips
When you buy canned anchovies, they usually come packed in salt or oil and have a brown color. If they’re packed in salt, rinse them to reduce sodium. Look for anchovies packed in heart-healthy olive oil instead of soybean oil, which contains substantial amounts of omega-6s, which have been linked to inflammatory responses in the body. You can also find anchovies cured in vinegar, which are white. They have a tangier taste and less complex flavor than brown anchovies. They are best used as toppings for salads or eaten on their own. If you are cooking with anchovies or using them as an ingredient in a sauce or salad dressing, opt for brown.
Do you have a secret ingredient for boosting flavor? Tell us what you think below.