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I'm not a fan of anchovies on pizza, because when you get a biteful, it's overly salty/fishy.

Years ago, I saw an allegory about a king (or a person of some high importance), who warned his new chef not to use anchovies, because he hated them. The king loved the chef's cooking, and when he asked why it is so good, the chef confessed that he put anchovies in everything. The king said, "Keep on putting anchovies in the food then".

How much of this story is based in reality? Can I improve the taste of my food by putting anchovies in it? How can I avoid making it taste like anchovies?

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about culture/myth –  rumtscho Jan 26 at 0:25
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The context of the story doesn't matter. What matters is that you are not trying to cook something and asking us to help you solve a problem you had with cooking, because we only specialize in solving concrete problems of the process of preparing food. Stories, even stories about preparing food, are off topic. –  rumtscho Jan 27 at 10:26
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This question still reads as "Where can I find this a link to this story?" –  KatieK Jan 27 at 19:07
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"What can I make with X?" (and "what goes with X") are too broad; we've long closed questions of that form, so the question in the body in bold isn't great. The question in the title is much better. And I'm not a huge fan of trying to ask an off-topic question by pairing it with an on-topic one. –  Jefromi Jan 28 at 20:24
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This is a "Doctor, it hurts when I do that" question. If you don't want the anchovies, don't put them in. There are a myriad other options for adding the so-called umami elements, including hard cheeses, soy sauce, worchesthire sauce, meat, mushrooms, maggie, fermented yeast spread and so on. BTW, the doctor says "So don't do that." –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 29 at 17:44

2 Answers 2

If you really don't like anchovies at all, the others who have said "don't use anchovies if you don't like them" are right. Don't use them.

But if what you object to is a bite of food that just tastes like anchovies, you can certainly avoid that. Just use them spread evenly through a dish. For example, if they're minced and mixed in during cooking, the flavor will be well-distributed, giving a more mild umami and fishy flavor. If the dish is something the anchovies go well with, this might work out for you. And since the flavor is mixed in, you can use more or less as desired, while if you're putting sizeable chunks of anchovy filet on a pizza, there are always going to be bites that'll have a lot of anchovy flavor.

So, random dishes? Probably not. But things that they go well with, sure. For example, a lot of people who wouldn't like anchovy pizza will like greens braised or sauteed with garlic, anchovy, and parmesan.

(That said, my grandmother's anchovy pizza just has little bits of anchovy pressed into the dough, before anything else is put on top. The flavor spreads a bit; it isn't at all overwhelming but it is noticeable and good. And the people who really like anchovies get to eat the rest of the tin.)

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I'm not looking to avoid anchovies. I use them in my tomato sauce, and I've used them in other pasta dishes (spaghetti with broccoli and garlic is usually served well with a subtle anchovy flavor and pecorino romano). My Dad keeps trying to emulate my late grandmother's recipe and he kills it by overdoing the anchovies IMO. Wonderful story about your grandmother's technique. Was she a royal chef in a previous life? Just checking. ;-) –  MarkS Jan 30 at 3:31

The core of truth on the base of this tale is tiny. Certainly not large enough to warrant emulation.

Anchovies are a source of concentrated umami flavor, and people tend to like umami flavor, but most of them don't recognize its presence. So, if you were to add a little bit of umami to food, it is likely that many people will find it well seasoned.

But anchovies are really not the best source of umami to add to food. They just contain too much of other flavors (salty, frequently also sour) and aromas (fish aroma). It is like hearing that most people like the taste of sweetness and start adding a bit of beetroot juice everywhere, because it has a high sugar content.

There is no way to add anchovies without adding fish taste. You can use tiniest amounts, but then of course the effect of the umami would be tiny. If you add more, it will taste like anchovies, there is no way around that.

If you really want to have more umami everywhere, you should start adding pure MSG. This is similar to adding sugar to foods, and won't result in off tastes.

All in all, the story may have some teaching value as a parable, but following it in real life is akin to saving a mad-with-pain lion from a trap with your bare hands. Leave it to story heroes.

Update Many disagreeing comments mention one or two foods which do get better with anchovies. I didn't bother writing about that exception, because the question was whether you should use anchovies everywhere, and my argument was that they are like every other food: there are a few places where they fit well, but are not a use-it-everywhere spice like salt.

If your food is already very high in umami, and also has strong aromas, anchovies will fit well there. The reason is that people already expect the umami there, and when it is stronger than expected, it is perceived as more pleasant, more tasty food. A small amount of anchovies is enough to emphasize the already present umami taste, and the other aromas cover the slight fish aroma.

But you cannot generalize from that exception class to other foods, just like you can't say that, because lemon zest makes yellow cake taste better, we should start putting lemon zest in all our foods. So I disagree when a long list of comments says that my answer is not true because beef/tomatoes/mushrooms/whatever high-umami-rich-taste stew tastes even richer with anchovies.

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I'd disagree - I've had recipes, notably for British-style baked beans, that called for anchovies, and tho the jar I fished the oil-packed fillets from smelled strongly of fish, the taste of the fish was tempered out by other ingredients and the "richness" of the dish greatly increased. (I tried it with and without the anchovy fillets). A similar effect was noted with anchovy-filled olive tapas I've had in Spain - it accentuated the sweetness and robustness of the olive variety used in a pleasant, non-fishy way. I'll try to track down a culinary source online or in print to corroborate this. –  RI Swamp Yankee Jan 30 at 3:28
    
I've gotten comments from people who hate fish tell me my tomato sauce is pretty awesome and they ask what I put in it. I do believe it's the small amount of anchovies that adds depth. Some people put cocoa or dark chocolate in moderate amounts into their chili for a similar reason. It doesn't make it taste like chocolate chili, but it does alter the flavor in a satisfying way. Maybe it's tweaking our senses in a pleasurable way without being BAM! FISH! or BAM! CHOCOLATE! –  MarkS Jan 30 at 3:38
    
Anchovies are considered to be a very high source of glutamate which is perceived by the human palette as what is described as umami. It makes things taste more "savory." MSG makes things taste good because of glutamate (hence the G in MSG). Anchovies are in fact an excellent way to improve flavor in a distinctive way, and often they don't add any fishiness. I for instance use two finely minced in my boeuf bourguignon and often recieve complements that it is the "meatiest" and "beefiest" beef stew that a person has ever had. –  Matthew Jan 30 at 4:31
    
All of the examples listed in the disagreeing comments are about adding them to foods which are already high in umami, and also rich in other flavors. This is a narrow case where a small amount of anchovies emphasizes the already present umami taste, and the strong other flavors mask any anchovy aromas. But I stand behind my point: most foods won't benefit from anchovies in amounts small enough to not notice the fishiness. The exception class is well-defined, there is no need to enumerate its elements. –  rumtscho Feb 4 at 13:19

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