The anchovy has pride of place at the Spanish table. In America we tend to shy away from these oily little fish, as much as we love whisking them into sauces and burying them in a cheesy pizza. Across the Atlantic, however, anchovies are preserved in olive oil and served whole as the centerpiece in a variety of appetizers, tapas, and light meals, or they are bundled up and tucked into green olives, my favorite method of consumption. They are eaten cold in order to coax out the glorious ocean depth of their flavor. By the same token, they are rarely cooked since heat tends to bring out that forceful, unpleasant bite that makes so many people cringe at the mere mention of anchovies.
Most common in the north of Spain where they thrive in the cooler waters of the Atlantic, anchovies are often served atop pan con tomate. A thick slice of golden toast is layered with tomato, salsa escalivada – a sauce of eggplant and roasted bell peppers – and then topped with whole anchovies. Another typical dish is an appetizer of anchovies and olives dressed with salsa l’espinaler, a simple sauce of vinegar, red pepper, and spices.
Anchoas are not to be confused with boquerones or ‘white anchovies.’ The latter have a far milder flavor and are generally fried or preserved in vinegar and eaten, pincho style, atop a round of bread.
We have a wide range of anchovies at The Spanish Table. I haven’t yet waded through all the brands, but according to the very knowledgeable Merecedes, our Catalonian in residence, Ortiz makes the finest anchovies of all. But there’s no need to take her word for it; come in and try some for yourself!