Ortiz Anchovies: What's All The Fuss About?
Not long ago, I had dinner with a friend at Cut Bar and Grill at the Rocks, Sydney. I noticed anchovies on their menu. Being a sucker for these salty morsels, I couldn’t help but order them. They came straight from a can that read ‘Ortiz Anchovies’. Apparently these are the crème de la crème of anchovies. The experience got me thinking, what is so good about this particular brand of anchovies that a restaurant would feel confident enough to simply serve them in an opened can?
Anchovies are small, green fish with a blue reflection. They are considered to be at the bottom of the fish food chain and they reproduce frequently. In ancient Roman times, they were consumed raw as an aphrodisiac. Today, they are consumed more for the taste than the supposed carnal effect. Europeans predominantly consume these when they are preserved and salted in brine. In South East Asian countries, the dried versions are more popular either deep fried, made into a sambal or used in stocks. Nevertheless, anchovies have long been tainted with the image of something pungent and salty on our favourite Capriciossa pizza. In the last decade things have changed. Like so many species of fish, anchovies are now endangered due to over-fishing.
This is one of the reasons why it pays to consider what we buy when it comes to canned anchovies. A tell-tale sign is the size of the meat. We should be looking for big, meaty anchovies packed in oil which is an indication that they are sustainably fished. In 1891, Bernardo Ortiz de Zarate established Conservas Ortiz in Vizcaya, in the Basque region of modern Spain. Since then, five generations have maintained and improved upon the artisan methods of production leading to a delicious range. Ortiz anchovies spend at least six months curing in rock salt and are hand-filleted to give large, meaty fillets without “hairiness”. They are also sustainably fished. By definition, sustainable fishing involves fishing using small nets that skim the surface of the sea so there is no by-catch or damage to the seabed. Additionally, and importantly, by keeping the catch small the fish don’t get crushed and damaged under a weighty haul.
There are two versions of Ortiz anchovies - one that is packed in salt and another in oil. Anchovies packed in salt have a deep pinky-red colour and feel closer to fresh fish in texture, but are less widely available. In my experience, they need to be rinsed and filleted before use. Anchovies in oil are a pinky-brown in colour. Good ones are firm in texture and they are also preserved in good quality oil.
As part of my research, for a week I ate Ortiz Anchovies with toasted baguettes, salads and pastas. A big consideration when eating them regularly is the cost vs the taste. Each 47.5 gram can costs just over $16.50 thus raising the question: is your anchovy palate worth that much?
If your answer is yes, and you decide to go out and splurge on the Manolo Blahnik’s of anchovies that is Ortiz, then here are some serving suggestions by some of my local chef heroes. Warren Turnbull from Assiette and District Dining pairs crispy quail eggs with an anchovy mayonnaise and tarragon, Maggie Beer serves them on croutons with caramelised onions and rabbit livers, and Andrew McConnell from Cutler and Co turns them into sexy bar snacks called anchovy pastries.
Now, forget the Capriciossa, eat them from the can too.
Alvin Quah for Citysearch, January 2011
February 15, 2011
For years I held anchovies as a topping for inferior pizza. Then, I had Ortiz at MoVida with Frannk's tea-smoked tomato sorbet and I realised, not for the first time, that I have probably been wrong about everything in my life and in my mouth. Now, if ever I see an anchovy on a menu in a restaurant of repute, I swim toward it. Melburnians, the fresh, marinated anchovies at Caffe e Cucina in South Yarra is to die.
February 15, 2011
I prefer the boquerones, the white anchovies filleted and marinated in olive oil. Stupidly expensive, but once you've had them on a pizza there is NO going back.
February 15, 2011
March 04, 2012
I had my first Ortiz anchovies yesterday. Oh my God! Life changed forever.