The $3 Ingredient-In-A-Tube That’ll Make All Your Food Taste Better
Every cook should have a secret ingredient. Something that no one will quite be able to identify, but that makes everything taste just that much more sophisticated. Something like anchovy paste.
Okay, okay, so it’s not the sexiest of secret ingredients, but not everything can be bourbon or bacon. And what anchovy paste lacks in being, you know, fish paste, it makes up for by transforming everything instantly into a restaurant-caliber dish. Best of all, it won’t make your food taste fishy (and won’t ruin your breath)—it just gives it a deeper flavor. Nice trick, huh?
Anchovy paste comes in a toothpaste-like tube that you’ll find next to the tubes of tomato paste at the grocery store. And it’s exactly what it sounds like: anchovies, salt, and olive oil, ground into a greyish paste. If you can’t find any, you can make your own. Start with a jar of anchovies packed in oil (not salt), and smash them together with a bit of salt and olive oil in a bowl using the back of a fork.
And then go nuts. Here’s where to start:
Looking for the funk of dry-aged beef but don’t want to spend a paycheck on it? Once you get that T-Bone home from the butcher, give it a spread of anchovy paste: combine a tablespoon or so of paste with the same amount of olive oil, and a good amount of salt and pepper. You can add chopped herbs, too, if you like. Rub it all over your steak and set it in the refrigerator until it’s steak time, up to 24 hours. It’s not exactly the same as aged steak, but it is very delicious.
This is a classic use for anchovy paste. It’s one of the ingredients in a typical Caesar salad dressing, but you can add a little squeeze to any vinaigrette: simply combine three parts oil to one part vinegar, then add a squeeze of mustard and anchovy paste, plus salt and pepper to taste. Just make sure you whisk the anchovy paste into the dressing thoroughly.
Pretty much any cooked vegetable can be improved upon with a bit of anchovy paste added at the last second. Sautéed greens? Paste ‘em. Roasted caulifilower? Paste, pal. Grilled zucchini? Paste, paste, paste. Just thin the paste with a little olive oil or lemon juice, then toss the cooked vegetables in it, and serve. Alongside the above steak would be nice, don’t you think? (Do note that anchovy paste is a bit salty, so you won’t need to salt your vegetables as much as you normally would.)
Chili (And Other Stews)
This is a no-brainer. Chili con carne, the original destination for secret ingredients of all stripes and colors, gets an instant upgrade with a healthy squeeze from that anchovy tube. And don’t stop there: you can use anchovy paste in all of your stews, although it plays especially nicely with rich, red meat stews that call for beef or lamb.
Basically Everything Else
As long as it’s savory, it could probably use a bit of anchovy paste. Try your new favorite secret ingredient in barbecue sauce, smeared over roast chicken, in pesto, in meatballs and meatloaves of every variety, in gravies, in dips, in bloody Marys. You can just straight-up toss it with pasta and a little olive oil, or whisk it into store-bought pasta sauce. Just keep a tube in the fridge to instantly up your game.