Kitchn Love Letters

The $11 Pantry Staple That Adds Instant Flavor to Pasta, Salads, Sauces, and Even Toast

published May 11, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

I have long loved anchovies. For years I waited tables in a top-notch restaurant that taught me to relish all things from the sea: uni, oysters, carabiñeros (giant red prawns, whose juice you suck out of their heads), and, of course, anchovies. The Caesar salad — romaine massaged with the most lip-licking, zingy dressing, scattered with garlicky croutons hewn from hunks of bread — was, in my opinion, unmatched. The salad came with whole anchovy fillets draped over its leaves, and I’d often find sad ribbons of fish pushed to the side of otherwise empty plates when I cleared tables.

Credit: Amanda Marikar

Opinions about anchovies are as strong as their aroma. Mine is that the saltiness brings a punch of umami to any party. And unless anchovies star in the dish, the cliché that you won’t really know that they’re there is often true. (While working at the restaurant, I learned about the sometimes-secret ways the little fishies lend savoriness to countless recipes.)

Out of the sea of options, the ones I buy when I want to enjoy them in their whole form (atop salad and a French onion tart, or simply on buttered bread) are these oil-packed, imported Agostino Recca anchovies. Of course I also love these when I’m melting them into a dish. Let’s take a look!

Credit: Amanda Marikar

Family-owned and produced in Sicily for four generations, Agostino Recca anchovies uphold the highest standards, sourced exclusively from the Mediterranean and processed using a time-tested method since the 1930s. The company’s anchovies represent part of the Mediterranean tradition of conservas, the preservation of fine seafood in sauces, oils, and brines, considered a delicacy throughout the region. (For a deep dive into the world of conservas and how they’re becoming more popular, check out this fascinating episode of The Splendid Table podcast.) Agostino Recca anchovies naturally balance sweetness, tenderness, saltiness, and savoriness derived from these tried-and-true methods. 

The glass-jarred anchovies are the most user-friendly in the Agostino Recca anchovy line, happily keeping in the fridge for months after opening. The tinned ones are lovely, too, but need to be transferred to a container if you’re planning to save some for a later date. The salt-packed anchovies are also excellent, but require extra steps. So I would suggest picking up the jarred version for your anchovy adventures.

Credit: Amanda Marikar

Suspended in olive oil, the blushing pink fillets await your next culinary project. Pump up your pasta, crown your Caesar, embellish your broccoli, and make your sauces, well, saucier with these little fish. (Anchovies are also the primary ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, which finds its way into Chex mix and chowder, among other recipes.) They melt away to virtual invisibility in a hot pan, and build a subtle-but-unmistakable backdrop for braised meats, steak sauces, or herb dressings. Once you grow to enjoy their flavor, I’d also advocate for the not-so-secret applications, like bagna cauda, an Italian garlic-and-anchovy-forward “hot bath” for dipping veggies. 

Credit: Amanda Marikar

My more recent and, dare I say, delightful usage is anchovy butter: anchovies smashed with garlic, chili flakes, and lemon zest bloomed in melted butter, then cooled and ready for countless applications. Chef and cookbook author Rachel Roddy’s recipe for the-stuff-I’d-slather-on-anything makes a great instant sauce for pasta, drizzle for beans or Brussels sprouts, and a truly stellar component of anchovy breadcrumbs. I recently rolled my roasted broccoli around in the butter, then dusted the florets with the almost-cheesy anchovy breadcrumbs. It was both identifiably anchovy-flavored and a dish I did not want to stop eating. 

I am a self-proclaimed anchovy aficionado, and often seek recipes that include or highlight anchovies as an ingredient. But for those who remain skittish or skeptical, I’d suggest dipping your toes in with a simple spaghetti, adding a hint to a dip, or experimenting with how a few fillets magically enhance the bold flavors of puttanesca. Meanwhile, don’t mind me while I eat these deliciously briny, meaty, and sweet anchovies on my toast. 

Do you have a pantry staple you’re constantly adding to dishes? Tell us in the comments below.