Love them or hate them, anchovies invite a reaction.
I’m firmly with the former. I can’t resist the salty little suckers; whether it’s pizza, a platter, or to give depth to a dish. And recent melt-in-the-mouth dose of Bagna Cauda from Chianti Classico did everything to cement my position. (More on that in a minute..)
So it was no real surprise one Sunday that the craving hit. I ducked out to a local deli for a selection:
- Agostino Recca anchovy fillets in pure olive oil (Sicily, Italy). On special, I think two 95g jars for $5.00
- Ortiz Anchovies in Olive Oil (Spain) 29g tin for $9.95
- Agostino Recca anchovy fillets marinated in white wine vinegar (Sicily, Italy), 200g I think around $12.00.
Why three? I was wondering: With anchovies do you really get what you pay for?
We settled in with our tasty spread. I added proscuitto, cheese, crackers and paired it with an Italian red. The kids are oddly quiet. Bliss.
So on to the taste.
What’s that saying “we eat with our eyes”? Wow, what a difference between the three.
Of course the Agostino Recca White Anchovies you expect to look different. But when you pair the Ortiz against the Agostino Recca in Olive Oil you can see very starkly that the Ortiz are more dense, more moist and richer in colour. And they hold their shape. The Agostino Recca had a coarse furriness about them, they tear apart in that way that anchovies usually do, and was that dryness? Not quite, but definitely a roughness that carried through to the tongue.
The White Anchovies were much more a visual match for the Ortiz in terms of shape and form and I really liked that they had such a fresh look about them. They looked fishy like a real fishy should. And oh so moreish. Wow. Familiar anchovy saltiness but the wine vinegar and citric acid round it out with tartness and tang.
The Agostina Recca in olive oil had depth of flavour, sharp salt on the tongue, and while I enjoyed them, there was just an ever so slightly bitter after-taste that I found distracting, particularly when paired up against the other two.
The Ortiz, by comparison, was definitely a finer product. I kept thinking ‘al dente’, unusual for what it was, but there was definitely some tooth to the bite, along with a smoothness in flesh and balanced saltiness that is just not evident in cheaper varieties.
The Agostina Recca White Anchovies were the favourite on the day. Oh. So. Good.
The Ortiz were the pick when a a more traditional anchovy flavour was needed. And goodness knows it would be around here.
[Ed. Note: I used the leftover jar of Agostina Recca in Olive Oil in my Bagna Cauda a week later. Read more here].
I read an interesting review (by Alvin Quah of Masterchef fame) suggesting that it is the big, meaty anchovies that tend to be sustainably fished, and this is a good reason for paying more. If this is true, count me in.
Can I tell you with certainty which of these brands uses sustainable methods? Right now, no, but I’ll ask. What I can say is that on company websites alone, Ortiz appears to be more in that camp as it specifically highlights line fishing and coastal fishing based on tides, and I don’t see this so visibly on the other. More on that to come.