Sunday, 20 December 2009

Smoked Anchovies

I always found the idea of smoked anchovies to be utterly, utterly minging.  I'd see tins of them on the shelves in Brindisa and pass them quickly by, making little gagging noises and sticking my tongue out at them as I did so, but one day after spending a small fortune in there (they sell lots of nice things) they insisted on giving me a couple of tins for free.  I thought that asking if I could perhaps have something different for free was just too cheeky and I couldn't exactly shout "MINGING!" and chuck them across the shop so with a watery grin I took them with away me.  This was shortly after they'd opened their deli in Borough Market so I guess they were eager to impress; the price of a tin has almost doubled since then so it looks like it's worked.

You'll be surprised to hear that after opening a tin I discovered that they weren't the honking little abominations I was expecting, they were in fact the Best Thing Ever.  Looking back I've no idea why the thought of them made me want to hurl, I've always loved anchovies.  The intensely salty cooked tinned ones can add depth and a savoury quality to almost anything, especially if it involves tomato sauce or roast lamb and as for the marinated, preserved fillets - boquerones - that you see in Spanish tapas places and delis, well I could eat my bodyweight of those and be back for more the next day.

These smoked ones though, they're very special.  Toothsome fleshy fillets of fish like the boquerones but the slight vinegar sharpness is replaced with a gentle, softly sweet smokiness.  It's a flavour that's obviously there but subtly so, serving more to bring out a smooth full-on umami hit from the fish itself.  Left to my own devices I'll happily just eat the whole tin with nothing more than a glass or 2 of chilled manzanilla but if other people are expecting feeding as well I'll brush off the biscuit crumbs, put on some pants and try to dish them up in a slightly more elegant manner.

Smoked anchovies and scrambled eggs on toast is quick, easy and comfort sex on a plate.  The eggs need to be creamy (I don't mean with cream in them, just cooked to a creamy consistency), go easy on the salt, I like to put a pinch of chilli powder in mine, not enough to make them hot but I like the lift they get from a little pinch.  Creamy eggs is the real key though, anchovies and creamy eggy things is quite a classic combo, the parmesan custard with anchovy toast at Le Cafe Anglais being the pinnacle of mankind's achievement in this sphere.  Until someone invents parmesan custard with smoked anchovy toast, that is.

Purple sprouting broccoli with smoked anchovies is my favourite and a great example of something already wonderful improved with smoky anchovy magic.  Purple sprouting broccoli deserves be revered as much as asparagus and it's at its peak in these cold winter months.  Think of this as a winter version of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, but better.

And finally I also love this bruschetta from the River Cafe which remarkably (a) only has 2 ingredients and (b) only takes about 20 minutes to make: mix some cherry tomatoes, slivers of garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, roast in an oven for about 15 mins at 200C/400F/gas 6.  Meanwhile warm through some borlotti beans tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little red wine vinegar.  Mix the beans with the tomatoes, I like to get them a bit crushed and mangled, it looks a bit rough but it's quite entertaining to prepare.  Spread on toasted sourdough bread, and lay fillets of smoky fishy alchemy on top.  

You may notice the last step appears to be missing from my photo, and indeed by the time I'd make the bruschetta I'd eaten all the anchovies.  I find this to be a common problem, if you're planning on making any kind of dish with smoked anchovies then I strongly recommend allowing for the fact that you'll have already eaten half the tin before you need to use them.

More details on Brindisa's website (they're £6.50 for a 100g tin in the shop)

Photo of (live) anchovies courtesy of Team Awesome! on flickr


  1. sounds like you are well into umami foods...

  2. £6.50 for a tin! OK, I'm going to wait till I next go to Spain to find them - they sound delectable!

  3. they are delectable, but for that price they freaking should be. Be interested to know how much you can get them for in Spain - I'll probably also be quite upset to find out, but still interested.