Thursday, April 4, 2013

Love Me Some Anchovies - LATimes

Okay, so you leave them off the pizza, but can you imagine Caesar salad dressing without them? Me either. So here's how Sang Yoon, chef and owner of Lukshon and Father's Office, creates tantalizing dishes that star anchovies.

My absolute favorite anchovy product is known simply as fish sauce. If you're a fan of southeast Asian cuisine, you know what I'm talking about. Fish sauce is a pretty basic ingredient. Anchovies fermented with salt and water. But the resulting liquid is a clear, amber-hued complex flavor bomb from heaven. Rich with natural glutamates, fish sauce transcends the humble ingredients from which it's made and becomes a versatile and important flavor-building block.

The amazing thing about fish sauce is that it can be incorporated into many recipes without adding a "fishy" flavor. It's that unsung hero role. Think about the flavors of yam neua (Thai beef salad). Tart, spicy, salty. A perfect example of fish sauce bringing intensity and flavor depth without showing its oceanic roots.

Think of an intensely flavored yellow or green Thai curry -- the flavors of coconut, lime and spices all in harmony. Taste any fish? Probably not. But fish sauce is probably in there, and you probably didn't notice it. That's the beauty of fish sauce. You wouldn't know how important it is until it was missing.

But fish sauce can also play the lead. A perfect example is a classic green papaya salad, made with a dressing that is just a careful modulation of fish sauce, sugar, lime and chiles. In a dish like this, the salty anchovy component is simply playing off the unripe fruit but is powerful enough to shine against the tartness of lime and searing heat of bird's eye chiles.

And despite the salt-curing, anchovy is one of those fatty fish such as salmon and tuna that are good sources of EPA and DHA. Heart smart.

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