Consider the anchovy

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Photo: Salt & Fat blog

The most disdained of pizza toppings, the anchovy, already down, was kicked by Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Pepperoni) (I mean, R-Chino Hills) in a “Point of View” column on the Bulletin’s Opinion page last week. Under the print headline “Why Californians dislike Legislature,” Hagman began: “The California state Legislature is about as popular as anchovies and airport pat-downs.”

Suddenly, contrary to Hagman’s intentions, I felt sympathetic to the Legislature. Not because of the airport security comparison, obviously, but because of the anchovy comparison.

I’ve always liked the anchovy. My dad likes them, my mom detests them. If we got anchovies on half (or a mere quarter) of a pizza, I would have a slice or two from that side. It was a mild form of living on the edge, not to mention a chance to be kind to my kindly father.

In our family, we also had a Thanksgiving-Christmas stuffing tradition: with oysters, or without. Pitting brother against brother, much like the Civil War, the choice made for a twice-annual, tongue-in-cheek debate, a kind of “Which Side Are You On?” at the dining room table. I didn’t care much but would always try a little oyster stuffing along with, wishy-washily, the regular kind. One exotic ingredient made a bland side dish a little dangerous. It was like “The Girl With Something Extra” as played out on my plate. (Not the ESP part, just the “something extra” part.)

As an adult, my default pizza setting is plain cheese, and my favorite toppings are probably sausage and mushroom, but I’ll get anchovies now and then. A lot of pizza places, especially chains, don’t even have anchovies, and sometimes the mom and pop places are out, because they never restocked after the last time someone ordered them, during one of the Bush presidencies.

I always like a Caesar salad made the traditional way, with at least one real anchovy fillet, but those are even rarer than anchovy pizzas.

I considered inviting Hagman out for an anchovy pizza, although I don’t know if anywhere in Chino Hills serves them, or if he would eat them.

Let’s hear from you. Forget the Legislature. What do you make of the humble anchovy?

P.S. If David Foster Wallace can write an essay collection titled “Consider the Lobster,” I can title a blog post “Consider the Anchovy.”

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  • Ramona

    Anchovies all the way. If used properly they can be removed by the nay-sayers.

    Your memories of separate batches of holiday stuffing reminded me that Mom always made two bowls of dressing, – Midwesterner speak for stuffing – one with and one without raisins.

    My dad couldn’t abide raisins because soldiers during WWI were “encouraged” to eat them by the handful to prevent – wait for it! – boils! UGH!

    [I should have written "dressing," because now that you mention it, that's what we called it. -- DA]

  • Wendy Leung

    The anchovy is so misunderstood. Nearly all the pasta dishes I cook have anchovies in them. And I would never consider a Caesar salad without anchovies a Caesar salad.

    [The Wikipedia entry says anchovies are "optional" for a Caesar. Pff. -- DA]

  • Mark Allen

    With the death of Uncle Duane, your dad (not that I’m disowning him) is the sole consumer of oyster dressing. Marsha now makes a tiny, like, 4X4 pan of it for him. It’s like pity dressing.

    Anchovies remind me only of very salty tuna. I like tuna but am not a salt aficionado.

    “My dad couldn’t abide raisins because soldiers during WWI were “encouraged” to eat them by the handful to prevent – wait for it! – boils!”

    Not to be an ageist, but your dad fought in World War I?!? I’ve done a ton of reading on it the last couple of years. It has to be the dumbest war in world history. I’d add “most destructive and wasteful” but the Holocaust gives the Great War’s sequel the nod on that count.

    [And we've gone from anchovies to geopolitics. Thanks a lot, bro. And yes, we have some older readers and commenters here, which is cool. -- DA]

  • cathy williams

    Have you ever tried the Italian salad dressing at Bob’s Big Boy? Delicious! I purchased a bottle (years ago) and read that it contained anchovies – my only meeting with anchovies, but based upon the dressing I just might try them one day…

    [I don't know that I have, Cathy. I see jars of Bob's dressing at Fresh and Easy and will have to look at the ingredients. -- DA]

  • Gavin

    Anchovy is a great way of adding natural umami. More than saltiness, it’s that somewhat earthy/smoky flavor that isn’t easy to pin down. Your taste buds know it and your brain cells just tingle. Plus, you also get the texture from a real piece of pisces.

    Here is another “Consider the anchovy” article favoring the gastronomic treat,
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/jan/18/consider-the-anchovy

  • Babu Batt

    Oh David, the anchovy is a very, very, very good thing. In most dishes, it all but dissolves and leaves a great smoky, salty flavor…as in Ms. Leung’s caesar salad. My dear friend, Donna Chang, can’t make a decent pasta dish without them, also. I hope when I get my own restaurant again, I can utilize that funny little fish.

    [It wouldn't be a Dream Cafe without an anchovy or two. -- DA]

  • DebB

    Love anchovies on my pizza, but not one of my friends or family does, so it’s a very rare treat. One of those things that makes me wonder if I was adopted and no one ever told me….

    [What a way to find out! -- DA]

  • Ramona

    @ Mark Allen:

    “Not to be an ageist, but your dad fought in World War I?!?”

    Don’t worry about being an ageist, Mark. Some things just can’t be denied and my age (73) is one of them.

    “. . . the dumbest war in world history.” In those days young men and women didn’t question the pros and cons of World Wars. They were called. They went. They served our country. Many never came home. Just like now without the rhetoric. I’m not taking you to task, Mark. Just tellin’ ya how it was.

    Sorry, David. I seem to have taken us a loooooong way from anchovies and I apologize.

    Who’s up for a pizza run? (Raises hand and waves frantically!)

    Anchovies, anyone?

  • Mark Allen

    I bet they did quite a lot of questioning the pros and cons of the wars to which they were called. Then they went.

    Leave the obedience to the folks at home. The ones going Over There are the ones who hashed it out!

    [Some questioned the wars before going, sure, but my guess is, not as many as you think. Think of how many boys lied about their age because they were so anxious to serve, and the general trust people had in government. But let's not prolong this digression. -- DA]

  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:

    I seem to clearly remember sharing a pizza with you and you asking if it would be okay if we had one with anchovies. I said yes and we had a wonderful pizza (and a wonderful meal!). There are some things I would never abide putting on a pizza (broccoli is one example; tuna is another), but anchovies is a topping to be savored, much like a nice hunk of cheese on some warm apple pie.

    When it comes to dressing at Thanksgiving, I’m the odd-man out in our family. I ask at least a portion of the traditional cornbread & sage recipe be made without onions (same goes for the potato salad at 4th of July), and my mom has always been kind enough to do so (much to my father’s dismay).

    A word of advice to Mr. Mark Allen – even today questioning governmental authority in the instance of combative action (war, police action, military intervention; whatever term fits the rhetoric at the moment) is far from a universal trait in America. Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction? Many took up that cause (and that fight) with no proof. Billions of dollars and thousands of lost lives later, there are those who still argue there were WMDs in Saddam’s arsenal. Many of the “brightest and best” went to Vietnam with eyes wide open. Is it so hard to believe that so many went willingly to fight in the “war to end all wars”?

    Of course the only winning move is not to play.

    [You're right, we did share an anchovy pizza at Sal's. I haven't developed the cheese-on-apple-pie habit, but I know some love it. -- DA]

  • James Rodriguez

    I’ve had anchovy stuffed green olives from Trader Joes, pretty good.