I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Everybody loves anchovies...it's just that some people don't know it yet. Seriously, assuming your diet allows it, chances are you've enjoyed salt-cured anchovies in more forms than you even realize. Prized by chefs and home cooks around the world for their funky, briny flavor and extraordinary versatility, anchovies don't just adorn pizzas, salads, and sandwiches—they make their way into distinctive sauces, rubs, dressings, and dips, where they lend a meaty umami backbone to, well, anything you want.
We have tips for picking out the right jar or can (and when it doesn't even matter), along with all your anchovy curiosities addressed. But what exactly can you do with that jar of anchovies in the back of your fridge? Let's take a look.
Devour Them Whole
Yup, that's right, you can snack on those fishes straight out of the jar, especially when you've grabbed the good stuff—high-quality anchovies are tender and meaty, with a silky texture and clean brininess. That said, they're also powerfully strong. To savor whole fillets without overdosing on salt, try laying some anchovies out on an open-face sandwich with sliced tomatoes, basil, and a garlicky aioli, or throw them together with Manchego and roasted red pepper for classic Spanish pintxos. Want to go the breakfast route? Try adding some filets to mild and creamy scrambled eggs for a Scotch woodcock.
The curing process that jarred and canned anchovies undergo doesn't just give them that bold, pungent flavor. Salt also breaks down the myosin in the fish—one of the muscle proteins that hold its flesh together—making it exceedingly easy to dissolve as it cooks. Minced or mashed and heated with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and olives, anchovies form the cornerstone of puttanesca sauce's trademark robust, dare I say raunchy, flavor. They add further oomph to briny, intense pasta sauces like this oven-roasted tomato business studded with salami and capers.
But that doesn't mean anchovies don't have more subtle applications—they'd also be totally at home in a pasta salad with pesto, creamy mushrooms baked with sausage and rotini or the filling for these homemade tortellini.
Brighter, Funkier Salads
Anchovy-based salad dressing can give crisp salads extra snap and an addictive salty tang, provided they're well-balanced. Most incorporate egg yolks and oil, whisked into a creamy mayonnaise-style emulsion that cuts through some of that salty intensity while coating your greens nice and evenly. There is, of course, the classic Caesar salad, but anchovy dressing does equally well with vegetal-sweet green beans mixed with pine nuts and pickled peppers or a wintery green salad with walnuts, apples, and Parmesan.
More Flavorful Meat
It's not exactly what I'd call surf 'n' turf, but there's no reason to shy away from dousing your red meat with a little extra meatiness. It's the same idea as using Worcestershire sauce (which is anchovy-based!), only...more and, in the right circumstances, way better. Take this slow-roasted leg of lamb, which is butterflied and slathered with a funky mixture of anchovies, garlic, rosemary, shallots, and lemon zest before it's rolled up, tied with twine, and cooked. The anchovies coax out the lamb's umami flavor without even a whisper of fishiness.
What's that? You like fishy? Try adding bagna cauda to a nice juicy steak—the buttery, garlicky Piedmontese pan sauce is rich, just a little briny, and totally transformative.
Anchovies are a key player in some of my favorite hors d'oeuvres, which totally makes sense when you think about how salty food gets your taste buds going. Aside from that aforementioned bagna cauda, which is traditionally prepared as a vegetable dip, olive tapenade gathers the brined flavors of Kalamata olives, capers, and anchovy fillets for a spreadable purée that's great on its own or smeared onto a muffuletta sandwich.
Make a Butter
Butter is a great partner for anchovies, not only because it can stand up to their intensity, but because it's easily infused with their flavor. You can simply mix the two for a sandwich spread or create a more nuanced spiced condiment like this British 'gentleman's relish', which combines butter, anchovies, cinnamon, white pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg in a food processor. It's great on toast, dabbed on steak or potatoes, or added to pretty much any preparation where you'd use salted butter. We've even cooked anchovies and garlic in butter and used it to coat our bagna cauda-flavored popcorn!
Even if whole anchovies on pizza isn't really your jam, you can still capture their flavor in your sauce. Sfincione, the OG of Sicilian pies, gets slathered with an anchovy-spiked tomato sauce, topped with salty caciocavallo cheese, and sprinkled with bread crumbs. It's sweet, tart, tangy, and just a little briny, with a healthy dose of olive oil.
Or Just Add Some Umami to...Anything
Hopefully by now we can agree that anchovies are pretty damn versatile. So versatile that I'd encourage each and every one of you to toy with adding a couple of minced one to your next savory preparation, just to see how amazing they can be. I'm talking about your lasagna and rack of lamb, your anything-with-sauce and your anything-with-cheese. Just remember, a little bit goes a long way, but also works real wonders—just check out this French tart, filled with endives, shallots, and creamy goat cheese.