Secret flavor shortcut: anchovies
My floral whiz kid friend recently let me in on her favorite quick go-to meal ideas. Like me, she often turns to roasted veggies and pasta. Her key addition, though, was one that I hadn’t been giving enough attention to lately: anchovies. (I haven't been giving enough attention to a lot of ingredients lately; more on my kitchen renovation soon.) Many people are turned off by the idea of their strong, salty flavor. But when anchovies are used as a seasoning (rather than as a main ingredient) and allowed to melt away into a dish, most of those people wouldn’t even recognize where this extra deliciousness came from. Anchovies add a wallop of umami flavor and a mellow sweetness when they mingle over heat with other ingredients.
And good for you, too
Before even getting to the flavor, there’s a lot to be said about the nutritional value of anchovies. Loaded with Omega 3s and protein and also a good source of calcium, iron, and selenium, they are good for you too. It’s true, they are quite salty, so cooking with anchovies is important to ease up on additional salt, especially if you are watching your sodium intake.
That’s what I did the other day with these simple pan-roasted red potatoes. Basically, they’re the French bistro classic, pommes persillade, or little cubed potatoes, pan-roasted and tossed with parsley and minced garlic. With anchovies added to the mix, the dish takes on a more Provencale flavor. Perfect with roast chicken, lamb chops, or a steak, it is equally delicious in more humble pairings. Like what I made last night with ingredients from my almost-bare fridge: cabbage and onions and fried eggs.
“How’d you get these potatoes so sweet?” is what my husband asked. I had to wave him off until my kids took their first bites to tell him the secret was in the anchovies. “You’ve been using those a lot lately, haven’t you?” was his response. It’s true, and why wouldn’t I? By the way, try a dab of anchovy paste or half a fillet of preserved anchovy in basil pesto…heaven.
Parsnips, A little secret for extra sweetness
Finally, to be fair, I have to credit an added parsnip for some of the sweetness. Another oft under-appreciated food, a small amount of parsnip can really round out the flavor of a dish that is dominated by a neutral-tasting ingredient like potatoes. And I think it works especially well with the anchovy, highlighting some of its sweetness.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
2 pounds red or gold potatoes, scrubbed and with skin on, cut into ¼- to ½-inch cubes (optional: add a peeled and cubed parsnip – or maybe a carrot? – in with the potatoes for a total of 2 pounds of root vegetables)
about 4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, generous pinch
6 cloves of garlic, minced fine or passed through a garlic press
4 fillets of anchovies, preserved in oil, plus some of their oil
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat a large cast iron or enameled skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot, add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir in the potatoes (and parsnip, if using) to coat them in oil and spread them out in the skillet. Let them soften and brown slightly for a few minutes, turning them once with a spatula and then add the salt.
Ready for salt
- Reduce heat to medium. Continue to turn them for even browning. When they are tender and nicely browned, after about 15 minutes (longer if your cubes are on the larger side), clear a spot on the skillet and heat the remaining olive oil in it.Add the garlic and anchovies to the oil, stirring to encourage the anchovies to break down.
- After 1-2 minutes, when the garlic is fragrant, add the parsley and toss gently to incorporate all the ingredients together.
- Serve immediately.