Life Recipes

Monday 23 April 2018

Rachel Allen schools on the salty anchovy

Anchovies enhance 
and improve the flavour of 
so many popular recipes.

Rachel Allen's anchovy and chorizo parcels. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen's anchovy and chorizo parcels. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen: 'I'm really partial to an anchovy'. Photo:Tony Gavin.

Rachel Allen

I'm really partial to an anchovy. Not just one or two, mind you. When I open a jar I find it hard to resist eating the whole lot. The little oily fishes are so aggressively salty and full of flavour that eating them straight from the tin might not be for everyone, but I just can't resist!

Due to their oily nature, anchovies must be eaten soon after catching or preserved. They respond particularly well to preservation, developing the much sought after umami or savoury taste. That flavour, as well as the myriad ways they can be preserved and stored, have seen anchovies rise to prominence in the food of just about every country in whose waters they swim.

In Japan, anchovies are cleaned and dried then used in Japanese stocks or dashi. In Korea and in much of Southeast Asia, anchovies are a fundamental ingredient in the ubiquitous fish sauce, which is a key component of much of their food. In the Mediterranean, anchovies are sometimes pickled in vinegar and called boquerones in Spain, where they are a popular tapas (see Rachel Recommends).

By far the most common form in which we see anchovies is packed in oil or salt. They have been brined and cured, then placed in the oil or salt for preservation. It is these anchovies that we refer to in ingredients lists and use to enhance so much of our food. The distinctive tang and flavour is an essential part of all sorts of recipes, providing a unique depth. From Caesar salad to Worcestershire sauce, salsa verde and so much more, the hugely transformative effect that anchovies have on food much belies their tiny size.

A Caesar salad is a true classic, a generous dish that is perfect to serve to friends this bank holiday. The anchovies in the dressing bring the zing, then the Worcestershire, Tabasco and mustard give it the perfect punch.

Rachel Allen: 'I'm really partial to an anchovy'. Photo:Tony Gavin.

Chicken Caesar salad with avocado


Serves 4-6

1 head of Romaine lettuce

1 large or 2 small chicken breasts

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a drizzle

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, cut into 2cm (4/5in) cubes

For the dressing:

1 egg yolk

8 anchovies, finely chopped

1 small clove of crushed garlic

Qtr teaspoon English mustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Half - 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

25ml olive oil

50ml sunflower oil

2 tablespoons water

To serve:

1 avocado, peeled, stone removed, and sliced or chopped

25g (1oz) grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7. Wash the head of Romaine lettuce and break the leaves in half, then place in a bowl in the fridge until ready for use (see Rachel's Tip). Drizzle the chicken breasts with a little of the olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on a baking tray and cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. While the chicken is cooking, toss the cubes of bread with the three tablespoons of olive oil, season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper, then place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven until golden, about four or five minutes, then place on kitchen paper to drain.

Next, make the dressing -place the egg yolk in a medium bowl with the chopped anchovies, the crushed garlic, the English mustard, the lemon juice, the Worcestershire sauce and the Tabasco sauce. Whisk together, then slowly add the olive and sunflower oil, very slowly whisking all the time until all the oil is added and the mixture is emulsified. Whisk in the water to thin it slightly and taste for seasoning.

When the chicken has cooled slightly, cut it into slices at an angle. Take the lettuce leaves out of the fridge, add the croutons, the chicken slices and the sliced or chopped avocado. Add enough dressing to coat the leaves lightly, then toss everything together. Transfer to a serving bowl if you'd like, sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese, then serve.

Spaghetti with anchovies, garlic and chilli


Serves 4

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g (12oz) dried spaghetti or other pasta, such as linguine or tagliatelle

4 tablespoons olive oil

6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced

10 tinned anchovies, chopped

1-2 pinches of dried chilli flakes

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Good squeeze of lemon juice


Fill a large saucepan with water, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil. Add the spaghetti, linguine or tagliatelle, whichever you are using, and cook for 10-12 minutes, or according to the instructions on the packet, until al dente.

As the pasta is cooking, place another large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the olive oil, followed by the sliced garlic and fry for two minutes, then stir in the chopped anchovies and the chilli flakes, and cook for a further minute.

Drain the spaghetti, reserving some of the liquid, then add the spaghetti to the anchovy mixture with a few tablespoons of the liquid. Tip in the chopped parsley and the squeeze of lemon juice and stir to mix. Taste, adding some more lemon juice if you like. Grind over some black pepper and serve immediately.

Anchovy, goat's cheese and chorizo puff pastry squares


Makes 16-20 squares


300g (11oz) good quality bought or 
home-made puff pastry

1 egg, lightly beaten

30g tin anchovies (about 10)

25g (1oz) soft goat's cheese, such as Ardsallagh, cut into small pieces about 1-2cm (ƒin-¬in)

40g (1ƒoz) chorizo, thinly sliced

50g (2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

Rachel Allen's anchovy and chorizo parcels. Photo: Tony Gavin


Preheat the oven to 230°C, 450°F, Gas 8.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface into a rectangle approximately 50cm (20in) long and 18cm (7in) wide and brush a little of the beaten egg all around the edges.

On the centre third - the pastry is to be folded in three - arrange the anchovies interspersed with the pieces of goat's cheese. Fold one of the short ends over to cover the anchovies and goat's cheese, aligning the edges and pinching them together to seal.

On top of the folded-over section, arrange the thinly sliced chorizo and the grated Parmesan. Fold over the other short end, aligning and pinching the edges to seal. Brush the top with a little more beaten egg. It can be frozen or chilled at this stage if you wish.

Place on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden on top and at the sides. Allow to stand for two minutes, then cut into small squares and serve.

Rachel recommends

It may be my Icelandic mother that gave me my taste for that most Nordic of foods, pickled herring. I have always adored their sharp-sweet flavour and soft, tender flesh. While in the past I had to get my fix buying herring that was pickled in Scandinavia, I'm thrilled that I can now buy herring caught and pickled in Ireland.

Kirsti O'Kelly runs Silver Darlings, an Irish pickled-herring company. Kirsti is from Finland and uses traditional methods and recipes passed on through her grandmother and her mother. Yet she also pickles herring using her own deliciously innovative ingredients and flavours. The beetroot and horseradish herring is so gorgeous and flavourful, it's a real favourite of mine.

Silver Darlings sell at various farmers' markets around Ireland including Mahon Point and Limerick, as well as a number of shops including Avoca, Fallon & Byrne, Morton's and more.


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