Saturday, June 18, 2011

On Anchovy Adventures

I have a bit of an ego problem. I do not care for anybody to know that I am not perfect at everything. In fact, it's a wonder why I have this blog at all, considering the permanent digital record I am volunteering of my culinary and financial misdeeds. I am the sort that would move through a whole Rosetta Stone system for Spanish before taking my first Spanish class. I am the sort that practices singing "Happy Birthday," just in case I have to sing it in a crowd. And I am the sort that will test out relatively outlandish recipes when my husband is out of town. Like this weekend, which is why we're discussing anchovies.
Yes, this is that sort of post.

We are historically an anti-anchovy household. Matty isn't a big fish man to begin with, and having spent a good portion of his evenings delivering pizza, his experience with anchovies is limited to the stench that creeps through the cardboard box of a $9.95 Saturday night special. But I keep seeing recipes with them. No. But what they sell at a pizza chain surely isn't the good stuff. No. They're how Alton Brown lost all that weight. No.

And to be fair, recipes really do abound for pasta with anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flake. Martha Stewart, The New York Times Dining Journal, and the Amateur Gourmet, where I first started paying attention, for starters. Tonight is the night we test out that forbidden frontier of umami.

First, we gather two ounces of linguine, garlic, red pepper flake, and anchovies. (A little John Denver never hurt anybody, either.)

And into a pan of olive oil, we start with one clove of sliced garlic, a good pinch of red pepper flakes and two anchovies, fished from a tin dripping with oil and bones. I have my doubts at this point.

After only a few minutes on medium heat, the anchovies really do melt. Which is a trip, because that's a fish filet with bones and all.

Then we add the linguine and some pasta water and mix it all around. My doubts are fading.

Why, when topped with Parmesan, this looks like a proper pasta dish! Let's have a taste.

Well, it wasn't exactly awful. No, no, not like that. It was surprisingly not fishy. In fact, it tasted more like Chinese food than the fishy mess I was expecting, which makes sense because fish sauce is a common ingredient in Asian sauces. No, this was hearty, and interesting. I'm sure I got the ratio wrong, the oil and pasta water didn't emulsify properly and it could have used a lot more red pepper flake. The house did not fill up with the smell of low tide. In fact, I took a little nibble on the end of a fillet right out of the tin and it was strong and salty, but not fishy. But I couldn't finish half of the dish. So where did this go wrong?

Right here:
The bones. Mind you, I pulled as many off as I could see before I put the filets in. And I do understand that the tins I can find in the middle of this gastronomical desert are likely not going to be great brands. But the bones were actually distracting. I started wondering if I ought to be eating these alone. If I were choking, could I get the dogs into a bedroom and call 911 for me and text Matt's parents for the dogs before passing out? I must know: do you just channel your inner Gollum and chew through the fish bones? Honestly, I never thought that the most offensive thing about my first experience with anchovies would be the texture.

As to anchovies, I remain unconvinced.

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