Four ways with a tin of anchovies

Photography: BEN DEARNLEY

Anchovies are either loathed or loved - you can't be lukewarm about an anchovy. At GT, we are firmly in the "for" camp. A couple of tins of anchovies in the pantry take up very little space, but despite their diminutive size, they pack a serious flavour punch. They add deep savouriness to all sorts of dishes and can be employed in a subtle manner or made the star of the show.

We often add them when sautéeing onion and garlic as the foundation of a dish - an anchovy or two adds a certain something to proceedings, melting away to invisibility, yet leaving their flavoursome mark. We also love to place them centrestage - spiking a lemony, garlicky mayo to serve alongside fried cauliflower, say, or in a take on the classic pissaladière.

Not all anchovies are created equal. Quality is important here, especially in dishes where the anchovies are front and centre. We love the beautifully intense, salt-packed Nardin anchovies (the oil-preserved version is a winner, too), and other brands packed in Spain's Basque country.

The salt-packed ones require a little more fiddling around - they need to have the salt brushed off, be butterflied and the spine taken out, whereas the better oil-packed anchovies are ready to eat. Good anchovies tend to hold their shape well rather than turn to mush, which is why, in our book, paying a little extra is money well spent. They're so good we can (and often do) scoff them straight from the can.

Fried cauliflower with anchovy mayonnaise
Serves 4 as a snack
Process 8 anchovy fillets, 2 egg yolks, 1 tsp Dijon mustard and 1 garlic clove in a food processor until smooth and combined. With the motor running, add 200ml olive oil in a thin steady stream, processing until thick and emulsified. Add 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, process to combine, adjust seasoning and set aside. Heat 2cm olive oil in a large frying pan, add trimmed florets of 1 cauliflower without overcrowding the pan and shallow-fry until golden brown and tender (3-4 minutes; you may need to do this in batches). Drain on paper towels, season to taste with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and smoked paprika, and serve with lemon wedges and anchovy mayonnaise.

Slow-roasted lamb leg with anchovies and rosemary
Serves 4-6
Preheat oven to 140C. Take a lamb leg (bone-in, about 2.75kg) and cut 16 small deep incisions at even intervals. Stuff each incision with an anchovy fillet, a couple of rosemary leaves and a halved garlic clove, place in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, season to taste and add 250ml each dry white wine and chicken stock to the pan. Roast, basting occasionally and topping up roasting pan with extra stock if necessary, until very tender and falling from the bone (3½-4 hours). Cover with foil and rest for 20 minutes, then serve with pan juices and lemon roast potatoes.

Onion and anchovy tart
Serves 4
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add 3 very thinly sliced onions and sauté until very soft and caramelised (45-50 minutes). Stir in 1 tbsp coarsely chopped thyme and 1 finely chopped garlic clove, season to taste and set aside to cool. Preheat oven to 200C. Cut a 375gm sheet of butter puff pastry into four squares, place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and score a 1cm border around the edge of each. Prick within the border with a fork, then spread with onion mixture. Place 4 anchovy fillets in a criss-cross pattern and scatter 4 pitted black olives over each tart, then bake until golden and crisp (15-20 minutes). Serve hot, scattered with extra thyme.

Quick anchovy and roast capsicum bruschetta
Serves 4 as a snack
Combine 200gm peeled roasted red capsicum torn into strips in a bowl with 12 anchovy fillets, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 finely chopped garlic clove and 2 tbsp each coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley and oregano, season to taste and mix well. Drizzle eight thick slices of sourdough with a little extra oil, toast both sides in a char-grill pan and serve topped with roast capsicum and anchovy mixture.

Hot tips
+ Once a jar or can of anchovies is opened, store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
+ It may seem obvious to say, but when cooking with anchovies remember they're salty so be judicious when seasoning the dish.

After more from these salty saviours? Try our anchovy recipe collection.

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