Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Anchovies anyone?

Today I want to consider one more of the classic compound butters – made with anchovies - before I move on to another topic tomorrow.

People seem to either love or hate anchovies, but I suspect that many of those who admit to hating them have been prejudiced by the cheap, over-salty, pasty-textured versions packed in unidentified oil and stored for far too long. Perhaps their minds might be changed with exposure to some of the admittedly more expensive anchovies which still resemble little fish, not gritty, salty, mush.

The anchovy is ‘a small fish of the Herring family (Engraulis encrasicholus) found on the European coasts, especially in the Mediterranean, where it is extensively caught, and pickled for exportation (Oxford English Dictionary).

I don’t remember seeing anchovy butter in any modern textbooks or restaurant menus, but it certainly used to be a staple in kitchens with a long British heritage. Nowadays virtually the only way most of us meet an anchovy is on a pizza or in a Caesar salad.

An enjoyment of salty, fishy condiments is common to many cultures. The British no doubt got a taste for it thanks to the Roman garum, and this taste was no doubt reinforced by contact with food discovered during their Empire adventures – such as the Asian fish sauce we are familiar with today.

As we found with garlic butter, there are many interpretations of the simple concept. This one clearly shows the influence of the Empire:

Anchovy Butter.
Put anchovy essence into a boat with a little lemon pickle and corach; put melted butter to it.
A Complete System of Cookery, by John Simpson, 1808

This one is in the strictly European classic tradition:

Anchovy Butter Sauce, Sauce au Beurre d'Anchou.
Take three or four anchovies; wash them well; rub them so that no scales may remain; take off the flesh, beat them with the size of an egg of butter, gather it together; hare four skimming spoonfuls of Espagnole; warm the sauce without allowing it to boil; having put in the anchovy butter just at the moment of serving, add the juice of one or two lemons to freshen it; pass it through a search [sieve] and vannez it well; if too thick add a little comommé and serve.
Art of French Cookery, Antoine B. Beauvilliers. 1827

And finally, from that classic cookery book Modern Cookery (1845) by Eliza Acton, another which demonstrates the British love of cayenne pepper – another legacy from the Empire.

Anchovy Butter.
Scrape the skin quite clean from a dozen fine mellow anchovies, free the flesh entirely from the bones, and pound it as smooth as possible in a mortar; rub it through the back of a hair-sieve with a wooden spoon; wipe out the mortar, and put back the anchovies with three quarters of a pound of very fresh butter, a small half-saltspoonful of cayenne, and more than twice as much of finely grated, nutmeg, and freshly pounded mace; and beat them together until they are thoroughly blended, if to serve cold at table, mould the butter in small shapes, and turn it out. A little rose pink* (which is sold at the chemists') is sometimes used to give it a fine colour, but it must be sparingly used, or it will impart an unpleasant flavour: it should be well pounded, and very equally mixed with it. For kitchen use,

*I found this inclusion interesting. The OED says of ‘rose pink’ that it is ‘a pinkish pigment made by colouring whiting or chalk with a decoction of Brazil wood or other coloured wood. I have always wondered why some bottled anchovies have that strange pinkish colour. What are they coloured with today, I wonder?

Quotation for the Day.

Anchoua's, the famous meat of Drunkards, and of them that desire to haue their drinke oblectate the pallate.
T. Venner Via Recta 1620


Marisa Raniolo Wilkins said...

Janet, I love anchovies.
Here is the recipe for a Sicilian sauce

(Sauce made with capers and anchovies)

The ingredients are whipped with a fork in a glass or small jug. I particularly like this sauce with delicate tasting fish (and boiled meat).

parsley, ½ cup, cut finely,
wine vinegar, 1 tablespoonful
anchovies, 2-3 cut finely
capers, 1 cup, if using the salted variety, rinse well and soak to remove salt, as necessary
salt and pepper or chilli flakes, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup

Use a fork to whip the above ingredients in a narrow jug or jar.

Add one or more of the following:
• 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
• 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, cut finely.
• For a stronger tasting and more fragrant sauce: Heat a little extra virgin olive oil before adding 2 anchovies (cut) and a few capers. Stir in the hot oil to release their flavour. Add the juice of a lemon just before the condiment is ready to pour over the hot fish.

panavia999 said...

I never met an anchovy I didn't like!

The Old Foodie said...

Ah Marisa - I am determined to get down to see you sometime soon and you can make this for me. Yes? It sounds fabulous.
panavia999. In theory I agree, but in practice, there are many that taste like stale fishy salt not fresh salty fish, if you get my drift.

Simcha said...

I am in Turkey and the turks eat anchovies by the bucketload. When I was little and living in Australia my mother would buy a product called anchovy butter. It was sold in a tube casing and tasted wonderful. It is no longer sold.