Anchovies are a rather polarising ingredient. A little ‘Marmite', some may say, not necessarily alluding to the fact that the salty, umami flavour-bombs do in fact have a similarity with the love it or hate it pot of ‘savoury spread'.
Until I first tried an anchovy bedded neatly in a bright yellow and red tin (you know the ones) I thought I was not a fan. Only a number of years ago (shock, horror!) I finally plucked up the courage to sample one, only to regret the decades of missed opportunities of deliciousness.
I find myself wantonly thinking about these tasty little morsels after a double act, firstly of anchovies, cold butter and toasted sourdough at Russell Norman's rather wonderful new gaff, Brutto. To be followed by a similar tribute at Elliot's in Hackney, where each bronzed fillet sits on a lovely butter curl, atop a finely shredded and pickled radish (I think) garnish delicately balanced on an excellent sourdough soldier. And given all the doom, gloom and shortage after shortage in the media, I thought it might be rather nice to write about something so innately delicious as a cured and tinned tiny fish.
Alas, I did have to question how they rated in regard to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) criteria. As with a lot of ratings in relation to sustainability, there are sometimes conflicting paradigms. European anchovies from the Bay of Biscay are the ‘best choice', and it relates that the anchovy fishery in the area closed from 2005 to 2010 to allow for the stocks to replenish.
The EU implemented a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) in 2016, purportedly based on scientific advice although, the MSC notes, that compliance is variable and there are challenges in its implementation, so not the most positive of news, but given the MSC's rating, this makes me feel a little better. And reading that all the anchovies are hand filleted and then cured for six to 12 months, which breaks down the muscle protein that holds its flesh together and alters the texture, makes their price tag seem rather reasonable.
I was really excited to see the launch of Mitch Tonks's Rockfish Tinned Seafood recently (alas, no anchovies, but the Brixham cuttlefish and Lyme Bay mussel escabeche both look very good). The website states that the tinned delicacies, from the south coast of England, allow for a zero-waste approach by ensuring that 100% of the catch is used, and clearly, it has a much longer shelf life, so a big win-win in my book. And they come in beautiful, bright and graphic tins designed by Penny Tonks (perfect Christmas gifts, I'm thinking).
So, when the bleak news all gets a little too much, grab yourself a loaf of sourdough, some delicious butter, a tin of Bay of Biscay anchovies, or perhaps some Rockfish tinned seafood, stir yourself a dry gin martini or G&T and enjoy a little moment of joy.
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