Bagna Cauda: The Buttery Italian Vegetable Dip That Deserves a Place on Your Steak

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A classic Northern Italian sauce for dipping vegetables gets a new life as a pan sauce for steak. [Photographs: Daniel Gritzer]

We use fish sauce a lot in our recipes here at Serious Eats, mostly in places you might not expect it. On its own, it has a concentrated fishy smell and flavor that are anything but subtle. Yet when you add fish sauce in very small amounts to other dishes, say a meaty ragù like Kenji's Bolognese sauce, and rich foods like my French onion soup, it adds complexity and depth without a noticeable fishy flavor.

The reason fish sauce works so well as a flavor enhancer is that it's packed with glutamic acid, the amino acid responsible for making things taste savory—that umami you hear about all the time. But fish sauce isn't the only cured fish-based ingredient with a payload of glutamates—you can get that straight from the anchovy. And one of my favorite ways to eat anchovies is in bagna cauda, the Piedmontese olive oil, butter, garlic, and anchovy sauce.

Traditionally, bagna cauda is used as a dip for vegetables, often including cardoons and radishes. I recently put it on popcorn, which worked great, but bagna cauda can be used for so much more. Like as, say, a steak sauce.

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I'm guessing most of you will agree that this makes sense, but if I already have some skeptics out there, perhaps I can open your mind to the possibility by reminding you that anchovies are a key ingredient in one of the most popular steak sauces of all time: Worcestershire sauce.

The delicious combo of bagna cauda and steak has another thing going for it: the bagna cauda can be whipped up as a pan sauce while the steaks rest after cooking, so just one skillet is required.

In the photos and recipe, you'll see that I used hanger steak, but the combination would also work with other steak cuts such as strip steaks, skirt steaks, or ribeyes.

All you do is sear the steaks in a little oil until they're cooked, then set them aside to rest. Add a little more oil and cook minced garlic and anchovies in it until the garlic is lightly golden and the anchovies have dissolved into the sauce. After that, just melt in some butter and you have the bagna cauda.

In this case, I add a little lemon juice to the sauce to balance the oil and butter with a bright, tart flavor. I suppose you could call it a warm bagna-cauda vinaigrette.

I bathe the rested steaks in that sauce, then slice them up and serve. The whole thing is ready in minutes, and hits you from top to bottom with flavor. Unlike those subtle dashes of fish sauce I mentioned before, you do taste the anchovy here. And it's delicious.