The Food Almanac: Monday, September 23, 2013

It's National Anchovy Day!
Staff Writer

Wikimedia Commons/ david&alina

More anchovies go into the making of sauces than any other purpose.

Looking Up
Fall began this morning at 4:05 New Orleans time, when the Earth reached one of the two points in its orbit at which the sun is directly overhead somewhere on the equator. Good-bye to the long summer doldrums in the restaurant business, which do seem to last right to the astronomical end of the season. This summer seems to have been a bit better than usual, though.

Today's Flavor
This is National Anchovy Day. Even those who like anchovies are usually unaware of how many different species there are of these little fish, found in most temperate seas worldwide. The ones that turn up in our Caesar salads and pizzas are cured in a brine, then packed in oil. The process creates the distinctively powerful flavors that aren't present in the fresh fish. It's comparable to what happens when a mild cheese ages into a sharp one. 

More anchovies go into the making of sauces than any other purpose. Fermented anchovies are the main ingredient in the fish sauces of Southeast Asia. The ancient Romans made a sauce called garum from anchovies; it was surprisingly like Vietnamese nuoc mam. Worcestershire sauce, a British attempt to duplicate Asian fish sauces, also includes fermented anchovies as an essential ingredient. Anchovies turn up in unexpected places. There's a bit of it in the sauce for oysters Rockefeller, for instance.

The assertive anchovy taste splits the human race right up the middle. People either love them or hate them; nobody's neutral on anchovies. Those who love them know that many kinds are available in well-stocked gourmet stores, varying in size, flavor, and color. And that anything they touch gains an extra spark of flavor.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Eight spots called Fish Hill are found across America, enough for a series in this department. Part One takes us twenty-five miles west of Boston. Fish Hill here is covered by a cul-de-sac street full of recently-built houses. It rises about 100 feet from the bank of the Sudbury River just south and reaches an altitude of 122 feet. The Trackside Grill is a half-mile away in Ashland, for the slaking of one's hunger.

Edible Dictionary
Worcestershire sauce, [WOOS-ter-sheer], n.A brown sauce of moderate thickness, used to flavor sauces, soups, and many other dishes in the English-speaking world. Pharmacists John Lea and William Perrins created it for Lord Marcus Stanley, who had just returned to England after many years in India. He wanted a duplicate of the sauce he'd become addicted to there. That was probably Southeast Asian fish sauce, to which Worcestershire is somewhat similar. The pharmacists concocted the sauce from fermented anchovies, tamarinds, molasses, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers, cloves, and a few other things. The first attempt tasted horrible. They left it in a barrel in their basement and forgot about it for two years. When they found it again, they discovered that it had aged into something rather good. The sauce was named for Lea and Perrins and for their hometown, Worcester.

Deft Dining Rule #196
The more bottled sauces are on the table in a steakhouse, the worse the steak will be.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
No matter how much you like them or how much you believe they're an authentic ingredient, anchovies were not in the original Caesar salad and are an option. For something really interesting, fry the anchovies before putting them onto the salad.

Powerful Gourmets Through History
Gaius Octavius Thurinus, who became known as Caesar Augustus when he became the first Roman Emperor--was born today in 63 BC. During his long reign, the Roman Empire reached a peak of influence and peace. Augustus set a new standard for opulent living among Caesars, one that would be copied by his successors. He was buried in a monument about the size of a baseball field next to the Tiber in Rome, across the street from Alfredo's, which invented the famous fettuccine recipe.

This is the birthday, in 1215, of Kublai Khan, a Mongol warlord who wound up uniting all of China's provinces into one empire, with himself at its head. His fame in our area of interest--as a man who liked luxurious living--is probably accurate. He was given to dining very well, and wound up becoming not only quite heavy but also afflicted by gout.

Food Entrepreneurs 
The first retail sale of chewing gum occurred today in 1848. The maker, John Curtis, called it State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. Spruce? I don't remember that gum flavor. Is it anything like Beemans? Actually, it's the resin that oozes from punctures in the bark of red spruce trees. Curtis didn't so much make it as collect it. At its peak, around 1900, some 300,000 pounds of spruce gum were made each year in Maine. I like their sardines and maple syrup better.

History's Worst Cooks
This is the birthday, in 1869, of Mary Mallon. She was born in Ireland but moved to New York City in the 1880s to work as a cook in a private home, and later in restaurants. She probably would have lived and died unknown, but she became the subject of one of the most famous medical investigations of all time. Mary was a symptom-free carrier of typhoid fever, which she passed on to forty-seven people in her career. She became known as Typhoid Mary. Although she was quarantined and told to stay out of public kitchens, she denied that she was infectious, and kept getting jobs as a cook. (You can't make a chef give it up.) Finally, she had to be quarantined for life in an island hospital.

Words To Eat By
"Americans can eat garbage, provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup, mustard, chili sauce, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, or any other condiment which destroys the original flavor of the dish."--Henry Miller.

Words To Drink By
"It is most absurdly said, in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety.--Thomas de Quincy, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, 1856.

Rate this Story