Two weekends ago I went to Bob’s Italian Food Store. I heard about this on a posting at Chowhound and was excited to see that there were quite a few Italian shops right next door in Medford. (I know there’s the north end, but I’m not going to manage that on a weekend–I don’t even want to think about parking and the commuter rail, while it would drop me off right there, goes every two hours on weekends). Bob’s was fun–it was a bit like a “real” Italian store (by that I mean, in Italy) as it was long and narrow and tightly packing as much as possible into every available inch. I took little E in tow and he had a good time getting lots of attention. I was able to ask all sorts of weird questions about what they stocked and found the staff quite helpful. Among other more normal items I picked up–some gourmet pasta, cantucci (essentially the Florentine version of biscotti), parmigiano reggiano–I got salt-packed capers (which they measure out for you) and a kilo-sized can of salt-packed anchovies.
Why on earth? The cookbooks I like (Marcella’s Essentials of Classical Italian Cuisine, and my new favorite The Zuni Cafe Cookbook) all swear up and down that these are far and away the best. I hesitated a bit before buying a kilo (that’s 2.2 pounds of salt-packed anchovies, for goodness sake) but remembered that these are supposed to keep if not indefinitely, a really long time. I double-checked this with the staff and they told me they keep them for ages in their own fridges. Well, since I had never seen these before and since I figured, if I used them all, it was really a bargain, I went ahead.
This weekend my husband’s family was up for little E’s first birthday. I mentioned I had purchased this to hear my mother in law react excitedly while the rest of the family began to wonder about me just a little bit more. We were making an onion tart (the same one I made before) for the birthday party and we decided that one of the two tarts would be pissaladiere style–that is, with anchovies.
We used the instructions in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, because that was closer at hand at the time (also I think it was a bit more detailed which made us feel better). Salt-packed anchovies are different than those canned in oil–they are larger and you have to fillet them yourselves. (Marcella Hazan loves them precisely because they are larger, or “meatier” as she puts it). This sounds kind of daunting but really isn’t that hard. You run them under cold water to rinse of the salt while you rub off the fins (other than the tail) and the scales–this is easy to do with your fingers, actually. If you try to pull the fillet of either side of the spine at this point it won’t work, which is why you drop them into a bowl of water. After a few minutes take them out and try to pull one side off–if it comes off easily, it’s ready, if not put it back in the water. You will know. Then you separate the second side. You put the two fillets onto a paper towel and then pat them dry. There will be very fine little bones sticking out along the lower side of the fillet (by lower side, the side not attached to the spine). You can gently run your finger over these and they will bend a little–you don’t have to remove these.
If they taste too salty to you, put them back in the water a while, but remember anchovies are salty no matter what! Since I had a $1.50 can of oil-packed anchovies, we decided to do a taste test–the salt-packed anchovies were far and away the winner. The flavor was not so harsh, and didn’t linger bitterly in your mouth. Also, while they were salty, the oil packed anchovies made it seem as if you were eating a salt lick. I don’t hate anchovies, as you know from my Pan Bagnat. You don’t eat them straight after all–they are for flavor. In short, I have lots of recipes I can use these in, I’ll just have to make sure not to forget about the rest of that kilo of anchovies.
Where is it by the way? In a tupperware in the fridge, in a plastic bag. Hopefully that will prevent a fish odor from leaking, though I have to say that dread fishy smell that gets into everything didn’t really seem to be so much of a problem with the salt-packed anchovies in the way it is when using fish packed in oil from a can. Maybe it’s the oil itself that gets into everything and is so hard to eliminate, who knows, but my mother in law and I were very surprised at how decidedly un-fishy our hands smelled after this process.
So that’s how I bond with the in-laws! Odd perhaps, but we enjoyed ourselves.