It’s no secret to those who know us well that we’re fond of anchovies. I use them often in cooking, whether chopped and thrown into a salad, used as a sauce ingredient or laid out on a pizza. And our standard anchovy has come to be the salt-packed kind. They’re often hard to find. For years, I sought them out in places like San Francisco’s North Beach or Philadelphia’s Ninth Street Italian Market.
Why salt-packed? I tried some the first time just because I had read about them. I kept buying them because I found out how handy it was to be able to use just one or two at a time instead of having to open a whole can of the oil-packed ones, find a container for them and remember to use them before they were lost in the back of the refrigerator. That alone would make them worthwhile, but it’s also more economical for us.
These days, I can sometimes find them here in St. Louis. Right now, they’re in the refrigerator case at Viviano’s on The Hill. I’m not sure why they’re keeping them there–I’ve never found the cans they come in anywhere but on regular shelves until now–but it’s okay with me, as long as they have them.
After I open the can, I transfer the sardines to a covered container I keep in the refrigerator. When it’s time to use one or more, I remove it, rinse off as much salt as I can, and set the wee fish to soak in a glass or bowl of water at room temperature. I’m fairly casual about the soaking time–I’ve gone as long as 30 minutes, and as little as 10.
After they’ve soaked, I pull off the fin that’s on the top of the anchovy, and then use my thumbnail to split it open, starting at the end opposite the tail. (For those who worry about such things, the anchovies are headless.) Just run your finger down the backbone, and it’ll split rather nicely. Discard the long black stringy gut and the backbone. Run the anchovy under running water, and it’s ready to use.
Agostino Recca Anchovies
$14.99/ 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.)
John Viviano & Sons
5139 Shaw Ave.