Weeknight Cooking

Anchovies: The New Salt

May  9, 2013

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: Why anchovies make everything better, even for kids.

anchovy pizza

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Time flies like a banana: it has been a year since I hectored you about feeding your child sardines. That was the only time I have ever hectored you, I think. Most of the time I just mumble outlandish, deeply un-child-friendly suggestions into my shoes, and then I go eat cereal out of the box when you’re not looking.

But people: you liked the sardines. You wrote in to say, basically, me too. So let’s do this again: why are you not feeding your child anchovies already?

Stay with me here.


More: The Sardine That Saved Dinner

I have never bought into the idea that children gravitate toward gentle tastes.

Clearly some do! The child who will only eat white food exists; my wife was once that child. (Someday I want to hear about a child who only eats green food. I am willing to bet that such a child is alive in Brooklyn today.) But as many children gravitate toward aggressive tastes. They like food in primary colors: olives, feta, sardines.

It’s odd. There are children who want their food pitched at a low, reassuring hum. And then there are children who want their food turned up to eleven.

This makes no sense if you think of taste in terms of gentleness or aggressiveness. But it makes a lot of sense in terms of subtlety or obviousness. I do not mean to slander your child, who is obviously exceptional, but it should be said: children are not especially subtle creatures. Subtlety is apparently located in some recondite section of the prefrontal cortex which doesn’t develop until age 26. Subtlety for Isaiah is when he says YES and then pauses and says NO.

Children don’t gravitate toward gentle tastes. They gravitate toward obvious tastes. They tend to like tastes that are either YES or NO. The white food demographic is NO. And the anchovy demographic is YES. We tend to think of the latter as very challenging and adult, and the former as very child-like and timid. The child who eats anchovies is supposedly the adventurous eater. But both children want the same all-caps typeface.

I like anchovies in part because I feel, very vaguely, that my children should be eating more oily seafood than they are, and oily small fish are the simplest way to solve this problem.

But that’s peripheral: I like anchovies mostly because—and this an ancient anchovy koan—they make my cooking taste better than it actually is. They are the deathless friend of the last-minute, how-can-we-be-out-of-peanut-butter cook. They do not make things taste more like anchovies: like salt, they make it taste more like itself—a deeper, richer, more convincing version of itself. In this house, they disappear in these ways:

Hearty greens: Sauté garlic in olive oil, then melt in three or four anchovies. (I use the oil kind. I know I am wrong.) Add the raw greens, a little water, and sauté, covered, for five or so minutes.  



Salads: See Amanda’s feisty salad camp. On radishes. On kale. For bagna cauda dressing. I have nothing to add. (Fine: Genius anchovy vinaigrette. And fiveandspice’s anchovy aioli.)
Pasta: See hearty greens, plus chopped toasted walnuts or bread crumbs. The greens themselves are delicious but optional. (If post-bedtime, add drastically more garlic and anchovies and some dried chilies. There is no better bachelor meal. It is a bachelor meal in part because having consumed it you can be confident of remaining a bachelor.)

In case your small humans are suspicious, take note: the anchovies in all the above are either invisible or at least no larger than speck-size. They will never know.

The recipe below is for pissaladière, the onion-anchovy pizza from southern France. Caution: these anchovies are visible.

Mine is not a real pissaladière: it uses a more or less standard pizza dough; the dough should be thicker, or enriched. I would do that, but if I did I would never actually make it: when I make pissaladière I am almost always doing so unplanned. And pissaladière is the perfect pantry pizza: all you need are onions, anchovies, thyme. (For extra anchovy goodness, you can smear anchovy paste on the dough.)

It looks sophisticated. It looks adventurous. It is neither. It is shameless. And it is obvious.

Pantry Pissaladière

Makes one very large rectangle of onion-anchovy goodness

The Dough

2 1/3 cups bread flour (or 333 grams)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch (or 6 grams)
1 cup lukewarm water (or 220 grams)

The Toppings

3 large onions, sliced (about a couple of pounds worth, very roughly)
1 can of anchovies
1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
olive oil
fresh or dried thyme, a sprinkling

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Read More:
Anna Klinger's Grilled Chard Stems with Anchovy Vinaigrette
Community Picks: Your Best Canned Fish
Unsung Ingredient: Salt Cod

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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


flycat March 16, 2014
Huge anchovy fan here. Anchovy paste is my secret ingredient in vinaigrette. Not only does it add extra deliciousness, it's an amazing emulsifier!
walkie74 December 17, 2013
Protip: if you run out of olive oil, drizzle the oil from the anchovies over the crust. It works just as well, if not better. And if you're in a REAL rush, you can get away with using a premade pizza crust like Boboli. (I'm still partial to homemade, though.)
walkie74 September 16, 2013
Does it matter what kind of onions are used? I'm eyeing the gigantic red one in my refrigerator...
Anna July 17, 2013
This describes my toddler to a T! She loves to eat lemons, limes, olives, and the other night I was making ceasar dressing with anchovies and she kept begging for more.. whole, slimy anchovies! Nice to know she's not weird after all:).
Deborah31311 May 10, 2013
Well, I don't live in Brooklyn (Middle East) but I was the child who ate mostly green food. I adore green vegetables and I've yet to meet a vegetable I didn't end up liking. My parents, at the dinner table, would say to my siblings, "eat your greens". When they got to me it was, "eat your meat"!
daddysurprise May 9, 2013
My daughter's first solid food (after the jarred stuff) was pickled herring.
Marian B. May 9, 2013
But this one goes to eleven!
Alexandra S. May 9, 2013
Love everything about this post. Yum yum yum. One of my favorite pastas is dressed with an anchovy-garlic-red pepper flake olive oil (all heated briefly in a small skillet) and tossed with toasted bread crumbs. Cheese is not necessary. Kids gobble it up. Must try your pissaladiere soon.
fiveandspice May 9, 2013
Yay! Yes! It's like you went into my brain and pulled out all my thoughts on anchovies and put them way better than I ever do, which is probably why I mostly haven't yet convinced the other people around me that anchovies are little flavor miracles. Is it weird that I'm trying to eat as many strong and diverse flavors as possible right now to try to acclimate baby to them already through amniotic fluid? Maybe it's not weird but it's probably weird to mention it publicly. Oops. Soo, anyway, your pissaladiere looks delicious.
Nicholas D. May 9, 2013
That was epic.
creamtea May 9, 2013
When I was preg. it was herring. All kinds. I probably mowed down some people on the way to the herring buffet table....
fiveandspice May 10, 2013
That is too funny creamtea! I love the mental image of you plowing through people to get to the herring. Little fishes are the best! :)
ChefJune May 9, 2013
btw, did you check out my Leg of Lamb with Garlic Sauce? http://food52.com/recipes/3814-leg-of-lamb-with-garlic-sauce You won't see the anchovies here, either.
Nicholas D. May 9, 2013
I just did. That looks divine.
ChefJune May 9, 2013
Your pissaladiere is gorgeous. And many in Nice are made with puff pastry, not yeast pastry. Now I have to make that this weekend. It's okay to use anchovies in oil. Much easier than the salted ones... (imho)
Lilismom May 9, 2013
I love anchovies. Ortiz are the best, I think. I have purchased a huge can, bigger than I expected, of the salt packed but have not ventured into the preparing of them.
Alan D. May 9, 2013
Anchovies do make everything better,and I will have to try your pissaladiere. I have found that they add umami in many places. One of the dishes of which I am proudest is lamb shank cooked with anchovy and wild mushroom. See the post here for the motivation, recipe and variations. It is really worth the effort: http://alandivack.blogspot.com/2011/01/lamb-ragu-and-umami-problem.html
Nicholas D. May 9, 2013
That sounds brilliant, Alan. I've taken to tucking them in lamb shoulder.