A classic and delicious combination is bread, butter and anchovies. They taste exceptional with cheeses with a long-lasting flavour, too, such as goat cheese, as well as on pizza and on focaccia bread. Moreover, they often tend to create unexpected flavour combinations, where they act as flavour enhancer.
It comes as no surprise that anchovies can wonderfully enhance the flavour of meat. Many of our traditional dishes are, indeed, made with this flavour combination. Before taking a look at some never-fail food pairings, let’s find out how this unique product is made and how to best enhance it.
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Cetara, between land and sea
Saying that anchovy fishing is deeply rooted in Cetara would be an understatement. The best anchovies are fished here, in this slice of heaven on the Amalfi Coast, and that’s not all.
Fishing is sacred here. Fishing techniques and tools – from gillnetting at the beginning of the 20th century, through the fishing light attractor, to seine nets – have greatly evolved over time. In the aftermath of WW2, the system of purse seines was first introduced, which involved the use of a light source to attract fish, weights to reach the sea bottom and floats to retrieve the fish.
Anchovies packed in salt, top choice
Anchovies from Cetara are still salted the traditional way. After all, salted anchovies were born out of the need to preserve an easily perishable product and stocking it for winter, when fish was scarce.
The first step of the salting process is the gutting (scapezzatura): the anchovies are decapitated and gutted in a single and extremely expert movement. Then, they are put in brine to dehydrate them for the first time. This step is called incruscatura.
Afterwards, the anchovies are salted. Anchovies from Cetara are layered in barrels with coarse salt: one layer of anchovies, one layer of salt, another layer of anchovies, another layer of salt, until the barrel is filled to the brim. Then the barrel is covered with a lid called tumpagno, made of a round piece of wood, and some stones are placed on top to press everything down.
Anchovies are ready after more or less six months. The best anchovies have a firm and plump flesh and the fishbone is easily removed. If the salt overwhelms the flavour of fish, the product is not of good quality. Salt should be used to preserve the fish, not to alter its taste.
Anchovies and meat – is that a good combo?
Of course, it is! As Tuscans, we have to mention the Tuscan chicken liver crostini: anchovies are a must in this recipe and help give that sapid note, enhanced by the capers, which makes this pâté so delicious.
Let’s move a little to the North and we will find the incredible Vitel tonné: thin slices of veal with a thick sauce. There is a reason why this recipe has been a must since the ‘80s. Anchovies are paired with tuna and capers to create an incredible, and somewhat mythical, flavour combination.
Then, we have salsa verde (green sauce) for boiled meat. Anchovies are an ingredient of this sauce that helps enhancing the flavour of this meat which needs a little extra boost. Anchovies make the flavour more intense and pungent. It surely makes you want to go for a second, third or even fourth bite.
Finally, we have another sauce called Acciugata del Valdarno which is, once again, used as an accompaniment to boiled meat. This sauce needs to be cooked for ten minutes, but the ingredients are the same: anchovies, capers and oil.
There you have the most traditional flavour combinations. Let’s take a look at some new ones.
If you want to impress your guests, you can match a great steak with a thick sauce of butter, garlic and filets of anchovies. For this recipe, you should let the anchovies slowly melt in the pan, rather than adding them whole.
We love the fact that anchovies melt in the pan; that means that you can always add one to the cooking liquid, to enhance the flavour of any dish in a unique way. Let’s take the plainest chicken breast as an example; let two anchovy fillets melt and then cook the chicken breast in the liquid, the result will be outstanding. The same goes for scallops, turkey hamburgers and veal cutlets.
All in all, combining anchovies with meat is a very easy way to make rich, hearty and truly flavourful dishes. From the most classic to the most experimental recipes – try them all and you won’t be disappointed. Only one recommendation: avoid oversalting. If you add anchovy fillets to your recipe, always taste the dish before adding any extra salt. It would be a pity to oversalt and, hence, ruin the dish.