For years, all of my favorite cookbooks have been urging me to seek out salt-packed anchovies, that I won’t be disappointed once I find them, that their superior quality is worth the effort of soaking and filleting them, that once I get my hands on them I will want to sneak them into everything from herb butters to pizza toppings to sauces and salsas.
So when I read once again in my latest cookbook purchase, April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig, about their umami properties, I decided it was time to bite the bullet on a tin. To my computer I marched, to the rescue came Amazon, to my door two days later for a grand total of $24 arrived a kilo of salt-packed Italian anchovies. It may have been the beautiful tin; it may have been the sight of something other than diapers and Desitin; it may have been the snow on the ground; but opening that package felt like Christmas in March.
The arrival of the anchovies coincided with the arrival of my parents, who would take part in the little fishies’ induction to my kitchen whether they knew it or not. Let me explain. My stepfather believes he dislikes anchovies. Because of this, I would have to be strategic, as my mother always is, about preparing them, first with the rinsing and filleting, next when adding them to the bread crumb salsa, their ultimate destination that evening. When Chip escaped for an afternoon walk, my mother, Auntie and I began scrambling. All evidence of anchovies — the tin, the backbones, the scent — had to be removed before Chip returned lest he suspect their presence and in turn ruin his dinner.
We made it happen: Auntie prepared the lamb chops à la April Bloomfield — whacking them with a mallet and seasoning them generously with salt all over — while my mother and I made the salsa, a Chez Panisse Café Cookbook recipe made with macerated shallots, toasted bread crumbs, olive oil, minced capers, anchovies, parsley and thyme. There is so much goodness in this mixture — it’s the kind of sauce you could serve with anything from roasted chicken to grilled steak — that one (those of the anchovy-averse mindset) might consider leaving the anchovies out altogether. And while I am sure the salsa would taste quite good without the anchovies — you would never suspect they were in there — I can’t help but think they are essential, that the sauce wouldn’t be as irresistibly delicious without them. This I believe, dare I say it, is their umami properties at work.
And wouldn’t you know, Chip consumed more of the bread crumb salsa than anyone at the table, spooning it over every bite of his lamb chops, drizzling it over his roasted potatoes, wiping his bread through the dregs on his plate. Sorry, Chip, I’m afraid to say, it seems you do like anchovies after all.
So, were my favorite cookbook authors to be trusted? For me the answer is an unequivocal yes. But if you are on the fence about purchasing a tin of salt-packed anchovies, let me offer a few thoughts:
1. Don’t be deterred by the amount of work that goes into preparing them. I had read in several books/articles over the years that the anchovies should be soaked in milk sometimes for as long as 30 minutes before they are filleted. April Bloomfield’s method entails rinsing off the salt, soaking them in water for one minute, and then filleting them with your fingers under gently running water. Sure this is a little more labor intensive than opening a tin or jar of the oil-packed anchovies, but once you get the hang of it, it takes no time at all.
2. Keep in mind that once you open the tin, you will need to store it in the fridge. I have dedicated a tupperware container for this purpose that will likely house anchovies exclusively for the rest of its life.
3. The salt-packed anchovies definitely taste better than the oil-packed — they are meatier and more palatable on their own, tasting almost sweet even.
4. After some very crude calculations based on the price of a 2-oz tin of oil-packed anchovies sold at the grocery store, I don’t think $24 for a kilo of anchovies is really that exorbitant.
5. An added bonus: the tin is beautiful. I have saved mine with visions of turning it into a clock or a storage vessel of some sort — it amazingly doesn’t smell fishy. So, perhaps you could rationalize the purchase with this potential piece of artwork in mind?
Personally I am thrilled to have these guys on hand. I think many of you might be, too.
bread crumb salsa ingredients:
The bread crumb salsa can be broken down into three main components: toasted bread crumbs; shallots macerated in red wine vinegar; and a mixture of oil, herbs (thyme and parsley here, but feel free to improvise), and minced capers and anchovies:
First the chops are whacked with a mallet:
Then they are generously seasoned with salt (and pepper if you wish) all over:
After two minutes in a hot pan, they are done. Spoon the bread crumb salsa over the chops, pile them on a platter, and serve:
Pan-Seared or Grilled Lamb Chops
Adapted from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig
Yield = However many you would like
freshly cracked black pepper (optional — Bloomfield uses salt only)
olive oil if pan searing
bread crumb salsa (recipe below)
Notes: In the book, the chops are grilled, but because my grill is still out of commission, I chose to pan-sear instead. The key with these lamb chops is to really flatten them out — the book recommends 1/2-inch, but don’t be afraid to go a little further because they puff back up when they hit the hot pan. If your meat is at room temperature, your pan is really hot, and you let the lamb chops rest for at least 5 minutes, they should be medium-rare with just a one-minute sear per side.
Also, in the book, Bloomfield recommends serving the chops with a chimichurri sauce, which sounds wonderful, but I had my heart set on the bread crumb salsa, which complements the lamb and which would complement any number of meats so nicely.
1. About a half hour before you plan on cooking them, place the chops on a cutting board. Cover them with plastic wrap. Working with one at a time and using a heavy pan or mallet, lightly whack the meaty portion to an even thickness of 1/2-inch (or even a little thinner for reasons noted above.)
2. Preheat your grill to high or place a large skillet over high heat. Make sure the grill grates or pan gets really hot. Generously season the lamb chops on both sides with salt and pepper.
3. If pan searing: Drizzle some olive oil (about a tablespoon or less for about 4 chops) in the pan. It should skid everywhere and be smoking slightly. Carefully place chops in the pan. After a minute, flip them over. After another minute, remove them from the pan and place on a board to rest for at least five minutes. If grilling: Working in batches if need be, cook the chops, turning them over once, until the exterior is deep brown and the fat is golden, just about a minute or two per side. Arrange them nicely on a platter.
4. Spoon the bread crumb salsa all over the chops passing more on the side as well. As noted above, Bloomfield serves these lamb chops with a chimichurri sauce and some fresh squeezed lemon.
Bread Crumb Salsa
Source: Chez Panisse Café Cookbook
Yield = 1 cup
Notes: You’ve all been pulsing your stale bread and storing the crumbs in the freezer, right? Well, if you are, this salsa will come together in a snap. The toasted bread crumbs add the most wonderful texture to the salsa and amazingly the salsa still tastes good after a day or two in the fridge. I don’t recommend making it that far in advance — it’s best to mix it just before serving — but should you have any leftover meat or salsa, you have the makings of a nice little lunch: chop up the cold meat, toss it with the bread crumb salsa, and serve it with warm naan or in Bibb lettuce or Romaine cups — so good!
Also, double this recipe if you are serving for 4 or more people. I’ve made it three times now, twice in a double batch (as it’s written in the Chez Panisse Cookbook) and once halved, as it’s written here. The first time I made it, I used basil exclusively for the herbs because it was all I had, and it was delicious, but I love it equally with parsley and thyme — just feel free to use what herbs you like best.
This salsa would also be lovely with rack of lamb.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 shallot, finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped thyme or sage
1 tablespoon capers, drained and minced
2 salt-packed anchovies*, cleaned and chopped
kosher salt to taste
*Oil-packed anchovies are just fine, too. Notes from Bloomfield on cleaning salt-packed anchovies: Rinse the anchovies one at a time under cold running water, rubbing them gently between your fingers to get the salt off. Put them in a small bowl and add just enough cold water to cover. After about a minute — if you soak them for too long they’ll lose their umami quality — give them another quick rinse. To fillet the anchovies, hold one under cold, gently running water. Pull off the loose muck near the head and at the belly. Rub the outside to remove any remaining salt or hard bits. Keeping the anchovy under the water, gently work a fingertip along the belly to start to separate the fillets. Gently pull the fillets apart. Pinch the backbone and gently pull it off whichever fillet it is sticking to. Discard it. Repeat with remaining anchovies.
1. Heat a medium (or large if you are making a double batch) skillet over high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil starts looking hot, add the bread crumbs and a pinch of kosher salt and turn the heat down to medium. Stir frequently until the pan starts to cool down and the bread crumbs are toasting evenly. Toast until golden all over. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, place minced shallots in a small bowl and cover with the vinegar. Let stand for at least 15 minutes.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together the oil, chopped herbs, minced capers and minced anchovies.
4. Just before serving, add the toasted bread crumbs and macerated shallots to the bowl of oil and herbs. Stir to combine.