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PRABEEN SINGH
HIGH TABLE

It’s a fishy, smelly business but anchovy is a chef favourite

Garlic bread with tapenade

o. Don't worry about me. Anne Frank," I assured her "because I ate anchovy heads for dinner..." The fisherman boasted that eating anchovy heads would make me smarter. And smarter they made me!' All in the Head — Rora 319 Camarillo, Ca (college article)

Anchovies — scary, hairy, oily, smelly, slivery marine fish, close relative of the Herring, and other small and big fishes that are clubbed together as the Engraulidare family. There are almost 100 species of this tiresome fish, swimming, frolicking and spawning in the warmer seas of the world; Anchovies are harvested and toasted for their extreme flavour (translate that to smelly fish) around the Mediterranean and the coastlines of Southern Europe.

I do empathise with the Italians, Spaniards and other Anchovy lovers from the Mediterranean countries, as its particular taste must be a part of their womb memory, with 'soon to be mothers' using the anchovy both as a food enhancers as well as eating them with their salads, soups, pies for lunch, stuffed in olives as a tea time snack, garnished with tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil with their measured glass of wine in the evenings, in their stews and pastas, piazzas and for all I know (not to under estimate pregnant women's strange food cravings) in there desserts!

What baffles me is the rhapsodic praise by food snobs/Gourmands from countries where the anchovy is as alien as the Martians. What makes these otherwise respectable foodies declare their penchant for anchovies and endlessly discuss the superior pickling methods? I believe the finest method of preserving them is to split them in two and place them for three to eight months in vats of coarse salt. The fish is thereafter bathed in fresh water, dried on paper towels and bottled in mason jars, submerged in sunflower oil. The complete process from harvesting the Anchovy to its arrival at the gourmet shops is performed manually — no contemporary Robots or and other new-found food technology is used. 'Just like the old times'. That is the finest snobby Anchovy, which is used by great chefs all over the world to flavour their creations with, instead of salt.

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The complete process from harvesting the Anchovy to its arrival at the gourmet shops is performed manually — no contemporary Robots or and other new-found food technology is used.

he extreme appreciation of the 'glorious Anchovy' is to eat it whole (no splitting it into two) to taste the superior flavour and texture! Although I do pride myself in the food department, I must confess that the closest I have come to eating, or the more accurate term would be swallowing, it with gulps of an excellent Rioja is in a pub in Barcelona, where they were fresh, marinated in vinegar with red chillies and had a much softer texture. I finished my plate to the accompanying sound of my mother's voice taking over my whole brain "Do not let the side down; eat it".

My friends are amused by my weakness for Caesar Salad but without the mandatory anchovies — they call me the 'food fraud'. Well, all I have to defend myself with is to quote Ermanno Furlanis, the Italian chef who worked in the private kitchens of the ever victorious, iron-willed Commander Kim Jong II of North Korea, who was ordered to carve sashimi from live fish and never place anchovies on pizzas. However, I do use Worcestershire sauce albeit it does have anchovies as one of its key ingredients. I wonder if vegetarians and vegans use this sauce.

These tiny fishes are distinguished by a large mouth almost half of its body size, extending behind the eye and a pointed snout. No winner of any aquatic beauty contest. Imagine what might happen to them if, with changing climate patterns, they morphed into giant-sized fishes and take on the shark for survival. How frightening is that! In the present day scenario they live in shallow warm temperate seas, often entering brackish waters around the mouth of rivers. The Northern and European Anchovies are prized food fishes while the tropical species are most often used as bait to catch the bigger fishes, especially Tuna. A few tropical Anchovies swim in freshwaters.

Yet another quirky definition of the mighty Anchovy is in the Saunders Veterinary dictionary — 'A cause of diarrhoea, vomiting, salivation, lacrimation, miosis, ploypnea, tachycardia and hypothermia in cats'.

General Anchovy tips: They stay fresh in cans in room temperature for almost a year. After opening the tin, you can use them upto two months if you refrigerate in air-tight container in the oil. To remove excessive salt, leach them in water for 30 minutes, changing the water a couple of times before use.

Recipe for Tapenade:

Ingredients:

1 cup mixed green and black olives

5 tbls extra virgin olive oil

2 red chillies fresh or dry de-seed

3 cloves garlic

2 sun dried tomatoes

1 anchovy

1 tbls thyme

Pepper to taste, go easy on the salt

Method: Pour all the ingredients in liquidisers. Pulse beat till it is a rough paste. Taste and serve.

 
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