THE BLOG

[Not] Cooking Off the Cuff: Anchovies -- They're Not Always Salt-Cured

08/27/2014 09:09 am ET | Updated Oct 27, 2014
Chris Mellor via Getty Images

We are traveling again but haven't been away long enough to collect a set of interesting discoveries to share. One thing, though, is worth telling about: the use of vinegar-pickled anchovies where I'd have expected to find the salt-cured kind.

Just about everyone knows salt-cured anchovies sold either in oil or in salt. Fresh anchovies are also on most people's radar even if they've never seen them in their local fish store. But this little fish (of which there are actually many species) takes other forms too. Once cured, they are an ingredient in bottled products like Worcestershire sauce, and in Asia they are sold dried and gleaming silver.

In Spain, these boquerones can be filleted then pickled in vinegar, where their flesh turns white and drier in texture. It's these that have twice surprised me on this trip. I occasionally buy them in New York, where they're sometimes sold loose (a couple of ounces - 50 grams or so - is all I ever need); predictably, I just serve them as a pre-dinner snack, sometimes on grilled bread rubbed with garlic and maybe slicked with olive oil and/or ripe tomato.

Still, when a menu lists "anchovies" as part of a dish, the assumption is that they're salt-cured, with the distinctive flavor that kind of processing results in: the flavor that some people dislike. So I raised an eyebrow when at The Winding Stair in Dublin a dish of plaice (a delicate flatfish that doesn't come to the US side of the Atlantic) was topped with capers, chorizo and not the usual anchovies but the pickled "white" ones as they're sometimes called. Likewise in London, at the excellent new restaurant Lyle's, a grilled lettuce leaf enfolded a mixture that included the same kind (served, cleverly, with beef).

In both cases, the bright, sour fillets upended my expectations of both flavor and texture. I never, ever would have thought to use these pickled fish in either of those dishes - which, by the way, would have been delicious with "regular" salt-cured anchovies too. Whether this is a restaurant trend or a coincidence, I do not know.

So, I've discovered not a new ingredient but an open door to new uses for one I keep in the house but have obviously not taken full advantage of. We'll see what happens in a few weeks, once I'm back in the kitchen.

CORRECTION: The anchovies at Lyle's were not the usual Spanish vinegar-pickled ones. The restaurant cures them in-house. Their brightness and texture misled me.

  • At The Winding Stair in Dublin, vinegar-pickled anchovies and capers were the garnish for filets of plaice
  • Photograph by Edward Schneider.
  • And at Lyle's in London, they nestled in a leaf of grilled lettuce to accompany slowly cooked beef
  • Photograph by Edward Schneider.