For most people anchovies are a love or hate ingredient. I have to admit that I love them! Like salt, anchovies are a natural flavour enhancer. They're rich in a compound called inosinate which, when combined with the glutamate you get in beef or lamb, emphasises the natural meatiness of those ingredients.
The very intelligent Romans knew this. Though the ancient Greeks probably invented garum, the liquor of salted anchovy (or mackerel) guts, dried in the sun, flavoured with herbs, decomposed by its own bacteria and then matured that became the chief condiment of Rome, seasoning almost every dish in the repertoire.

The anchovy is a small fish belonging to the Engraulidae family and here in Spain it is generally salted. Although the anchovy salting tradition, as with other fish, stems back to the Phoenicians, production as a semi-preserve began in Santoña (Cantabria) and other towns along the Basque coast towards the end of the 19th century.  The process begins with salting and pressing of the fish which are then left to cure for several months until they acquire the right reddish color and aroma. The next steps vary depending on whether the anchovies are to be packed in brine or in oil.

A good preserved anchovy ranks among the gastronomic greats and the Cantabrian anchovy (Engraulis Encrasicholus) is considered the best for this process of semi-preservation because of its strong aroma, delicate texture and pinkish flesh. The anchovies from Santoña (Cantabria) are a traditional product with an excellent aroma and flavor and are packed in olive oil. They can be eaten alone or as an ingredient for canapés, salads, pasta, etc.

Equally famous within Spain are the anchovies from l'Escala, a fishing town on the coast of Girona (Catalonia), where there is a longstanding, Mediterranean-salting tradition. These anchovies are cured for a shorter period, and are packed in brine or olive or sunflower oil in glass jars. They are associated in Catalonian cuisine with the staple bread and tomato tapa.

Anchovies that are packed in oil need to be drained before use. You may want to soak the really salted varieties in milk for a while to get rid of any excess saltiness.

Use anchovies to make anchovy butter to serve with fish, anchovy toast, tapenade or the Italian bagna cauda. As I said, anchovies have an affinity with red meat but they also liven up endless ingredients including cauliflower, tomatoes, beetroot, potatoes and soft cheese. They also form the basis of condiments such as anchovy essence, Worcestershire sauce and Asian fish sauce.

Effectively 'cooked' by the lemon juice and wine vinegar, this is a classic tapa and utterly delicious. At TASCA GASTROBAR, we marinate the fish in vinegar for a shorter time than is traditional, to avoid them becoming 'overcooked'. Needless to say, the anchovies must be very fresh.

Serves 6
400g fresh anchovies
250ml white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
150ml Virgin olive oil
2 Garlic cloves, chopped
a bunch of fresh parsley for serving, chopped

Clean the fish by simply twisting and pinching off the heads, making a slit along the belly and pulling out the innards. Rinse well under cold running water.

Butterfly the fish, using a knife to extend the cut along the belly (used for gutting) right down to the tail. Put the anchovies, belly down, on a board and open them out, press firmly along the backbone with your thumbs to loosen it. Turn the fish over and pull out the backbone. Try to leave the little tail fins on. You will then have the two fillets still joined together.
Wash and carefully dry the anchovies, put them in a shallow dish and pour over the wine vinegar to cover. Leave for about 10 minutes until the anchovies are beginning to turn white, then remove them and pat dry.
Arrange the anchovies, skin side up, in a dish and pour over the lemon juice, scatter over the chopped parsley, salt and garlic, and cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour. Pour over the olive oil before serving.

Anchoide – tantalise the tastebuds

Begin with a superb variation on a tapenade that tantalises and stimulates the taste buds. Anchoide makes great tempting canapes served over a little freshly toasted bread and served with a glass of well chilled Champagne or Cava. Its easy to make, yet tastes divine.

Ingredients:  serves 8

10       salted anchovies
100ml            olive oil
1tbsp  red wine vinegar
2          garlic cloves, crushed
            Freshly ground pepper

Wash the anchovies under cold running water and drain well on kitchen paper.
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.


There are a number of stories about the origins of puttanesca sauce, the raciest being that a Puttana, or Lady of the Evening, could cook it in the time it took her to take care of a client, and enjoy it while recovering from her exertions.

Ingredientes: 4 personas

250g   Garganelli Pasta
2          garlic cloves, finely sliced
400g   tomatoes, peeled and diced
1         tbsp capers
20       black olives, pitted
8          anchovy filets, chopped
2          red chilies, chopped
1 tsp   oregano, chopped
80ml   Olive oil
400g   tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbsp tomato concentrate                                                
            sea salt and pepper
Heat a pan with olive oil and add the garlic and chili. When the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomatoes and tomato concentrate and simmer for 4 minutes.  Toss the capers, anchovies, olives and oregano in the sauce and simmer for another 5 minutes. 
Boil the garganelli pasta in salted water for 8 about minutes.   Drain and mix the pasta into the sauce. Add the grated Parmesan cheese and serve.


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