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The Secret Ingredient (Anchovy): Anchoïade

Note: This month's Secret Ingredient is the anchovy. Take it away, Kerry!

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[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

Anchoïade

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There seems to be so much misunderstanding surrounding the anchovy—so much love and so much hate.

I usually buy mine in one of three ways: packed flat in olive oil in a tin, rolled up in salt in a jar, or in a tube of anchovy paste—the last of which, I must admit, I find both more convenient and more subtle than the other packaging. In cooking school, we used to soak anchovy filets in milk—most people need both their coffee and their anchovies with a touch of milk.

And so we've come to think of anchovies as a sort of condiment, either loved or hated. But I had to do actual research to determine what they look like. Other than those inside-of-the-green-olive-colored filets, with bony hairs (or are they hairy bones?) protruding menacingly from the flesh, and that pungent oceanic smell, what really is an anchovy? They are small green fish with a silver stripe that glisten blue in the water. Like so many of us, they prefer a temperate climate and cluster in areas neither too hot nor too cold. Congregating in the Mediterranean waters, they enjoy a sumptuous feast of fry and plankton, munched down by tiny teeth set in too-big-for-their-size jaws.

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Anchoïade with Sweet Roasted Bell Peppers at Le Chaudron in Cassis, Provence, France. [Photographs: French Revolution]

The one flaw in their plan? They are enthusiastically hunted by Mediterranean fishermen hungry for tapenade and pissaladière, and by larger fish. They are a hearty bunch living a perilous life, and so they have earned my respect.

In the next Secret Ingredient installment, I will further discuss the anchovy in terms of cuisine, but here I offer my version of a simple salt-of-the-earth (what, after all, is saltier than the anchovy?) Provençal condiment: anchoïade, a kind of dip or spread or sauce made from the filets of anchovies and olive oil.

I've had it served with little niçoise olives and bread, with crudités, and most recently, with a ménage of roasted sweet bell peppers. For my version, I incorporated aspects of another Provençal condiment, sauce mistral, named for the winds that shake Provence and made from the region's ubiquitous almonds.

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With garlic and lemon and olive oil, anchoïade is probably the recipe that most highlights, instead of only suggesting, the flavor of the anchovy. Serve with slices of grilled peasant bread drizzled with olive oil, or with a simple bouquet of radishes. People won't believe what they are eating, and enjoying.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the French in a Flash series for Serious Eats.

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