You all remember, I’m sure, when I raved to you about my favorite bit of edible Spain — about the Jamón Iberico, with its striking flavors, its creamy textures, its lush oiliness that coats the lips and tongue, and makes that glass of Rioja go down just that much better. And you all remember — I’m sure, too — when I told you that sadly, it is rare here in the United States, and expensive in the few boutiques where it can be had.
I’m so sure that you all remember, of course, because it was such a giant tease.
Well let me tell you, friends. Yes, the jamón bellota, with all its black-hoofed, acorn-fed goodness doesn’t range far from home. But my second favorite bit of edible Spain, as it turns out, does.
What I have here, for your inspection, are vinegared white anchovy fillets — boquerones in Spanish. And unless you already like the anchovy / pickled-fish genre of gastronomy, they probably look pretty gross. But let me assure you: if that is indeed what you think, you would indeed be mistaken.
Boquerones are quite lovely. They are similar, a little bit, to herring pickled in white wine, in that they have some fishiness, but they are mostly a repository for piquancy and spices. They are similar in that they have a firm texture, and they are perfect with a thin slice of bread and a squirt of lemon juice. But they’re more delicate than pickled herring: eating them, you never feel like you’ve been slapped with a fish or doused in pickle brine. Their piquancy is subtle, cut by a certain creaminess that is, to my mind, characteristically Southern European. And they have an affinity for really fine olive oil (and just a touch of sea salt) that is most definitely Southern European, too.
So they may look gross, but there’s really nothing gross about them. They are delightful little bites of salty, savory, umami goodness that most definitely deserve a go as an appetizer, even if you’re absolutely certain that pickled fish isn’t your thing.
At any rate, I must admit, I have no recipe to go with this post. It is mostly an extended brag, with a little bit of recommendation tacked on at the end. Philly people: I got these little guys here from Claudio’s, in the Italian Market. It’s a little bit of a schlep for me to get there, but I needed some olive oil, and while I was in the store … I thought: why not?
Non-Philadelphia friends: I have to admit that I’m not actually sure where to send you. You clearly don’t have a Claudio’s (though surely, your city must possess some other kind of charm). But you probably have an ethnic food market. Like the Sahara Mart in Bloomington.
So I charge you, dear friends: go to them! Tell them you want vinegared white anchovies! Scarf them down!
They’re not going to be for everybody, I will admit. But as I said already, if you give them a chance, you may just find yourself surprised.