A is for Anchovy

Ponding achovies

Pounding anchovies

I like anchovy paste on toast for breakfast. In fact, I love anchovies, either fresh or, more often, cured in those little jars or cans of olive oil. They have a umami-like taste, salty, savoury and sharp. This was the fish, food historians believe, which the Romans used to make their ubiquitous condiment, garum.

They rammed bucketloads of anchovies into barrels, let the lot ferment and rot and drained off the liquid. Not a million miles away from Thai fish sauce, you might think, but anchovy paste is a touch more civilised than garum.

One of the things the Romans didn’t do for us was leave any kind of a tradition of fish-based sauces although there are hints of it (and anchovies) in Worcestershire Sauce and my own version of Henderson’s Relish with anchovies, Sheffield Relish (see recipe on this blog from January).

My wife hates this little fish or thinks she does so I sneak anchovies into recipes when she’s not looking. But she’s not above buying me one of those ceramic-looking pots of Gentleman’s Relish to go in my Christmas stocking.

They are over-expensive for what you get and I am no gentleman but then we discovered anchovy paste in tubes at Waitrose for not more than a quid – and just as good as Gentleman’s Relish. The brand changed once or twice but now the product has disappeared from the shelves of our local store. So I thought I’d make my own.

I looked on the internet but ideas were few: some American chefs who pronounce the word ‘anchovy’ with the stress on the second syllable (an-CHOW-vy) rather than on the first, with no ‘w.’ And silly teenagers holding up tubes and making disgusting noises.

It was pretty easy, more or less the same recipe as for my kipper paste. I drained a cheap can of Waitrose anchovies (no point spending lots of money on a fancy one until I’ve got it right) and cut up the anchovies with a sharp knife then mashed them with a fork. I transferred the lot to a mortar (my blender is too big for the small amounts used), added the reserved oil, a knob of butter, squeeze of lemon, a half teaspoon of paprika and some ground black pepper and pounded the lot to a smooth paste with the pestle.

It was runny as I spooned it into a jar so I left it in the fridge overnight to firm up. I was quite pleased with the result although I might go easy on the lemon juice next time.

As a kipper lover I approve of the idea of fish for breakfast. One of the most exciting things for me about a trip to Norway a couple of years ago was not the fjords or the beer but little tubes of fish paste in the breakfast buffets of restaurants and the coast-hugging Hurtigruten ferry. They contained a mixture of smoked cod roe and mashed potato. Lovely. You can’t get it over here.

Incidentally, the Italian lady on the Waitrose check-out puts anchovy taste in her tomato sauce. Hmm. Don’t tell the missus.

Anchovy paste ingredients

Anchovy paste ingredients

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