Some people say anchovies are bad. Those people are wrong. Anchovies make almost any savoury dish better. It’s because of the umami, that fifth taste. Anchovies deliver, by express, satisfying glutamates to your palate. Fish sauces nuoc mam, nam pla, and others do the same. Mushrooms, tamari, and marmite bring it in a blunter fashion. That delicious crust on grilled meat? Glutamates.
Anchovies, however, also contain nucleotides, which increase the perception of glutamates. Here we have umami, weaponized. A savory explosion.
Anchovies are also salty, and salt is the first and foremost flavour enhancer.
All of this makes the anchovy the most efficient and elegant taste delivery system known to man. Let them melt into a roasting joint of meat, dissolve them in the oil into which your tomatoes and garlic are headed—both will taste meatier. You want a Caesar salad “hold the anchovies”? There is no such thing. And a pizza parlour that doesn’t offer them on their pies is utterly without self-respect.
We don’t see the very best anchovies here in St. John’s, the ones you eat on their own dressed with a little good olive oil. So our choices are few: Fat Nanny’s carries a good make from Italy, as did the already missed Food For Thought. The small cans of Spanish origin found in the supermarkets are better than no anchovies at all.
May I propose the term “empty salt” to mean a savage, harsh and unpleasant salinity as opposed to a judicious brininess that brings out the essential flavour of food? Almost all processed food is too salty. They’ve made it easy to spot, just look at the side of the package and if a serving has more than 10% of your daily recommendation then put it back on the shelf. The low or no salt versions of products are better choices. Excessive salt is used to hide other shortcomings of flavour and increases the shelf-life on foodstuffs that don’t deserve it. You can’t buy a sausage at the supermarket than doesn’t have too much salt. And I’m only talking about good old sodium chloride. Most processed food also have more insidious sodium compounds in the mix.
Next time you order a pizza try asking them “extra anchovies, hold the sodium nitrate.”
By Ed Riche. Illustrations by Kelly Bastow.