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It's amazing what you can learn about your mate, even after a dozen years of marriage. "What is that smell?" she said the other day. "Anchovies," I cheerfully replied, holding an opened tin of Spanish Bertozzi and admiring the luscious anchovy filets packed in olive oil. "Try this," I added, spearing a marinated 'fresh' anchovy imported from Italy. But by then she had left the kitchen.

For such a small fish—only a half dozen or so inches (10—20 cm.) long—anchovies have a remarkable effect on people. You either love their strong flavour or you can't stand 'em. I am with the former, the group that relishes their thickly salted, meaty taste; that knows only an anchovy—or better yet two—makes a salad worthy of Caesar or provides a piquant tang to a pizza.

Fresh anchovies are rarely available in Montreal. The tinned ones sent here are often foul tasting, particularly those not packed in olive oil. Most of what we get is packaged in Spain, Morocco and Italy, even if the fish are caught off Peru. Italy packs anchovies in bottles. Elsewhere it is in tins. Anchovy paste is also sold in tubes.

We do get marinated anchovies and they may taste closest to fresh ones. Look for the Il Veliero brand. These have a vinegary herring taste which is not surprising since anchovies are from the same fish family.

The tastiest anchovies require the most work. These are packed salted in large tins. They are kept on ice or in refrigerators in fish stores. They are also likely to be in Italian and Portuguese markets. These fish are larger than those in tins or bottles. They still have some skin and usually have bones. They need to be rinsed gently in several changes of fresh water. They can then be sliced and the bones pulled away from the filets. Once they are prepared, marinate the filets in good olive oil and a little lemon juice before serving. After they are properly rinsed, these filets have less of a salty taste than canned varieties. They also have a stronger fresh fish flavour which is similar to sardines.

Anchovy filets are often served as part of an hors d'oeuvre platter. They can be mashed into butter or with garlic oil and lemon and served grilled on toast.

Here is how we incorporate them into a Caesar salad. Tear several leaves of romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Trim the crusts from a couple of slices of bread, toast them lightly and cut these into small croutons. For the dressing: chop two cloves of garlic in a blender. Mix the juice of half a lemon with twice that amount of olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, six drops of Tabasco sauce, and one anchovy filet or an inch of anchovy paste squeezed from a tube. Blend everything well at high speed. Put the lettuce in a bowl. Add the salad dressing, a tablespoon of capers, the croutons, and two tablespoons of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. Toss well. Grate a little black pepper over each plate with extra anchovies as desired.

© Barry Lazar 2001 Email Flavourguy

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