Anchovy Paste

Anchovies are possibly my favorite dirty-secret ingredient, and I’m not alone in keeping my love closeted. How can we help the ones we love to get over their fear of anchovies? I believe that if we, the anchovy lovers of the world, could get a tube of anchovy paste into every American kitchen, more cooks would wake up to the little fish’s charms.

I myself cook with anchovies regularly. I love how they add a savory, almost meaty flavor to dishes. Last month, I cooked from Michael Psilakis’s How to Roast a Lamb (Little, Brown, 2009), and found an incredible dish: roasted octopus with salami, apple, and anchovy vinaigrette. The octopus, salami, and apples are already a knee-weakening combination, but that anchovy and shallot dressing on top of it was a lily-gilder of the best kind.

Last week, I made Vietnamese spring rolls, and I wanted a nuoc cham dipping sauce to go with them, but I was all out of fish sauce. What’s fish sauce but anchovy water? I thought. So I dissolved a tablespoon of anchovy paste in 1/2 cup of water, and my dipping sauce was good to go.

Needless to say, when I make a garlic-and¬-oil-based pasta sauce, I add anchovy paste while the garlic is cooking in the oil. And don’t get me started on the value of the paste in short rib braises. Rumor even has it that Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse bastes its steaks in anchovy butter when they come off the heat to achieve that certain je ne sais quoi.

In fact, it’s always when I’ve use anchovy paste that people ask, “What did you put in this?”

So join me: invite an anchovy-fearing friend or two to dinner, and make them delicious anchovy-laced dishes without telling them. (You can order anchovy paste online from Zingerman’s.) When they ask “What did you put in this?” and you tell them, you can hand each of them a tube of their own, complete with a stack of the recipes they’ve admired, should they express the slightest bit of rejection.