Monday, June 30, 2008

Anchovy Tea?!

When I purchased the orecchiette I recently used in an improvised chili, I had other plans in mind for it. Some of those plans had to do with creating my own Italian sauce using anchovies for flavor. My first attempt, however, ended miserably. Orecchiette's strong suit is sticking to whatever you put on it. When that means having to pick tiny shreds of too-strong-tasting-to-eat-straight anchovy off of practically every noodle, the words "fun to eat" vanish from your vocabulary. I realized that I needed a way to get the flavor of the anchovies into the sauce, while also being able to remove the anchovies themselves.

Then I saw a stainless-steel tea ball at my friendly neighborhood Schnuck's. A lightbulb went on above my head with such an audible "ding" that shoppers five aisles away turned their heads. Or maybe that was my voice yelling "Eureka!"

Today, I gave the tea-ball a spin. First, I gave the orecchiette a head start in a pan of boiling water (since it takes, you know, 11 minutes to cook). Then I opened a can of Red Gold crushed tomato (clearance priced at 75 cents!), added a teaspoon or so of olive oil, a cautious sprinkle each of basil and oregano, and a devil-may-care sprinkle of garlic powder. I filled the tea-ball with drained anchovy fillets and plopped it into the tomato mush, taking care to keep the loose end of the chain outside the pan.

When the noodles were about halfway cooked, I put the tomato pan over really low heat, and covered it so red juice wouldn't splatter all over a six-foot radius from the stovetop. This was a good thing, because the underside of the lid was soon coated with tomato gunk. I stirred occasionally, doing all that I could to encourage the anchovies to "steep" in the sauce, and turned the flame off when I thought it was hot enough. The noodles still had several minutes of cooking to do, but that's all right. The sauce was still palatably warm when I poured half of it over the noodles, topping the bowl with some grated parmesan.

I was surprised at how nummy it was. I had expected the taste of tomato to overpower everything, but in the event it only added a pleasing tanginess. The seasonings did their job, and I even dare to think the tea-ball experiment was a success. No nasty, overpowering bits of anchovy stole into the sauce; while, on the other hand, the fish definitely added their note to the flavor. I wasn't sure, though; so I cooked another pot of orecchiette (using up the rest of my supply) and gave myself a second opinion. Twice bitten, I won't be shy of trying "anchovy tea" another time.


Marie N. said...

Good plan! I use my tea ball to place fresh mint leaves in the hot tea while it steeps on its way to becoming iced tea.

Although I cannot imagine the flavor of anchovies being too strong (I always have to sample some from the tin) you may find a tube of anchovies paste would suit your needs. You can use as little or as much as you prefer with no waste. The tube will keep in the refrigerator for a long time.

RobbieFish said...

I can eat about 2 anchovies at a sitting. Beyond that, my tastebuds go into shock and I can't taste anything but anchovies for about 2 hours.

Thanks for the advice on anchovy paste. I considered that, but the next phase of my experiment is to use those tinned anchovies wrapped around peppercorns. I'm not even going to bother looking for peppercorn paste...