I think anchovies might be my favourite ingredient in the kitchen. Or at least the one I use the most. I don’t do a lot of vegan or veggie cooking but when I do, the thing I always have to think about is not just adding something anchovy based into it.
Lea & Perrins, Gentleman’s Relish, Anchovy Essence or just whole fillets in oil, those little cured fish are a big way I season my food. The only thing you’ll ever hear me say I have in common with Ella Woodward is that it looks like, along with all my other ailments, I have the same chronic condition as her.
PoTS or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is very common in people with ME/CFS like me and causes faintness, low blood pressure and low blood volume amongst other symptoms. It means I need to drink vast amounts of fluid to help prevent worse fatigue or dizziness and it’s not unusual that I can put away 4 litres of fizzy water, 5-6 cups of peppermint tea, a few mugs of builders tea and all the fluid in my food each day.
This also means I need more salt in my diet than the average person. Salt helps raise my problematically low blood pressure and if you drink a lot of fluids, you need to replace salt even if you’re healthy. This is why I prefer fizzy water which has higher sodium levels than tap water, but I also need to add salty stuff to my food.
I get through a lot of good old basic sea salt, eat a fair bit of parmesan, love an olive or two but treat anchovies as medicine. I’m on my second Kilner jar of them from Lidl this year as I often chuck a couple of fillets on top of my morning eggs for an extra salty savoury kick to wake me up.
I also adore those little marinaded white anchovies you get in Italy and Spain as antipasti or tapas. That shimmering silvery sheen to their flesh with a silky vinegary tang on your tongue. They were my absolute favourite treat on family holidays to Italy as a kid and now I love them with a dry sherry or crisp Cava on the side.
Sadly they are usually quite expensive to buy so a rare sunshiney summer treat for me, but when I went to my local fishmonger last week, she had fresh white anchovies for £1 per 100g. I had no idea what to do with them but came home with 200g all the same.
My friend Sherri from the fabulous Blue Jay in Brixton suggested I smoke them on a cedar plank to add an extra depth and that was my plan until I was invited to a friend’s for dinner and needed to bring something.
Then my attention turned to how one marinates an anchovy and I realised from Rachel Roddy’s expertise that it’s basically like ceviche but with more oil to stop the flesh going mealy from over-cooking in the acid. This seemed like my Saturday night level of cooking right now.
The anchovies were skinless and headless, but I needed to pull the spines out before marinating them. This was easy to do with my fingers and I laid the fillets in a dish and salted them well before adding the juice of three lemons, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and two tablespoons of olive oil and leaving them to sit at room temperature for three hours.
They were served up scattered with fresh parsley and some capers and some freshly ground pepper and we slithered them all sharp and oily into our mouths with our fingers in a very undignified fashion while sitting on the sofa gossiping. All they needed was some bubbles on the side and they were pretty much the perfect low maintenance, high salt starter.
If you get the chance to buy fresh white anchovies don’t pass it by. It’s testament to how much I like my friend that I shared them. The texture was much firmer and plumper and satisfying than the commercial ones I could easily have devoured the lot by myself they were so good. Plus there’s something so pleasurable about eating a whole tiny fish as a full sized human…