Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fresh anchovies in a fiery red pepper sauce

This is inspired by a Calabrian speciality known as rosamarina or mustica (also sometimes called Calabrian Caviar). This consists of anchovy fry, which are dried, salted and conserved with oil and hot chilies. The resultant preserve is then eaten on bread or used to flavour pasta.

When I went to Calabria in April, I took an empty bag in my hand luggage. For the return trip I filled it with two kilos of spicy sausages, some nduja (a very spicy, spreadable salami), and a jar of rosamarina. The recipe below is inspired by the rosamarina, although all the details are different: instead of anchovy fry I used fresh adult anchovies, I replaced the fresh chillis with cayenne pepper (red chillis are very difficult to come by in Cadiz – they do appear in the market from time to time, but not in a predictable manner), and I cut down on the salt. The result is a sauce which is fresh, spicy and fishy all at the same time. It is excellent with pasta, and also goes well on toast. If you can’t get hold of fresh anchovies, then I imagine this would work well with herring fillets.

500g of fresh red peppers
500g of fresh anchovies
olive oil
3 teaspoons of chilli powder
½ teaspoon of salt

  1. Chop the red peppers into small pieces and sweat them gently in a large frying pan with plenty of olive oil.
  2. While the red peppers are cooking, prepare the anchovies. There are two ways of doing this. Either take the whole anchovy, insert a sharp knife into the back just below the head, push it right through so it comes out of the front of the anchovy, then slide it down. Remove the top fillet and the guts. Slide the knife under the backbone and along to the tail and remove the other fillet. Rinse the fillets in plenty of cold water, and drain. This sounds fiddly but is actually quite easily. It should take no more than 10 minutes to process 500g of anchovies. An alternative method is to gut the anchovies (by sliding a sharp knife into the fish’s anus then up towards its head, pull out the guts and rinse under cold water), then blanch them in a saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds or so. Once you’ve done this, you can just slide the fillets off with your fingers. They will be slightly cooked, but that doesn’t matter.
  3. Once the peppers are soft and thoroughly cooked, transfer them to a food processor and liquidise until you have a fairly smooth sauce.
  4. In the saucepan, heat a little more oil, stir in the chilli powder and fry for 10 seconds or so to release the flavours, then return the peppers to the pan. Season with the salt, stir well and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the anchovy fillets to the sauce, stir well, cover the pan, reduce to a minimum and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve as a pasta sauce or spread on toast as a spicy hors d’oeuvre.
Sometimes I think we worry too much about authenticity – becoming too obsessed with always using the original ingredients can stop us from improvising and finding ways of doing new things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This looks GREAT! I am going to have to make this - and soon! Thanks heaps!

Chovy Chap 2009