In its natural habitat the anchovy is a pleasantly bland, tiny fish with firm, almost transparent flesh; its capacity to absorb salt has made it a major seasoning in the Mediterranean for centuries and its ferocious, intense salinity is its whole essence.
We adopted it in Britain as Patum Peperium, which is a proprietary brand of pounded anchovies, butter and cayenne pepper. You can make your own anchovy butter this way to serve with grilled fish or, indeed, on toast. Chill in the fridge until used. Keeps well. Or make a nicoise anchoiade for country bread or toast by pounding together anchovies and black olives for a spreading paste.
A Provencal tapenade is made by blending an equal quantity of anchovy fillets and capers, then adding olive oil, to make a sauce similar to a mayonnaise, as a dressing to use on hard-boiled eggs or cold meats.
The saltiness of tinned anchovies makes them ideal for a warm dipping sauce for crudites, sliced raw vegetables. Empty a can of anchovies with their oil into a pan, add an equal volume of good olive oil, and heat through, stirring, till the anchovies break up and dissolve. You can, if you like, add a little finely chopped garlic.
Drained anchovies are essential seasoning in a Salade Nicoise, made with cold boiled new potatoes, cooked green beans, tomatoes, a little sliced raw onion, black olives and an oily dressing. And the famous American Caesar Salad is nothing without anchovies.
Serves 4 to 6
1 iceberg lettuce, or heart
of two cos lettuces
1 tin anchovy fillets, drained of oil
6 slices white bread, crusts removed
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
juice of half lemon
1 raw or coddled egg*
2oz/50g grated parmesan cheese
olive oil for frying, and dressing
freshly ground black pepper
Wash the lettuce, pat dry, and chill. Cut bread into dice, and fry in sufficient olive oil with the garlic until crisp. Drain on absorbent paper. To serve, tear the lettuce into bite-sized chunks, toss in a bowl, sprinkled liberally with extra virgin olive oil, plus the lemon juice and pepper, and the egg, making sure all the leaves are glossily coated. Garnish with croutons and anchovies and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
*If you aren't sure raw eggs are safe, soft-boil (or coddle) them for one minute and break into the salad.