Anchovies, bluefish and sardines, among the oily, intensely flavored fish so many diners still seem to love to hate, may soon find some new fans.
Chefs across the country who love these abundant, versatile and oft-overlooked fish are making them more approachable by serving them on toast or with crackers, two familiar ingredients many diners already enjoy.
“There’s a lot I like about these fish, starting with flavor. Bluefish is rich and meaty. Sardines are like bacon of the sea,” said chef Dylan Fultineer of Rapp Session in Richmond, Va. “Both of these items need some sort of vehicle to deliver it to your mouth, and both are soft in texture, so a crunchy cracker works well.”
At Rapp Session, a modern oyster saloon and market, Fultineer serves both smoked bluefish dip and sardines escabeche with saltine crackers. On the menu since the restaurant opened in February, the bluefish dip is the restaurant’s best-selling bar snack, but the jury is still out on the sardines, which Fultineer describes as a “love/hate thing.”
For Emily Blount, owner of the recently opened Saint Leo in Oxford, Miss., grilled bread is the vehicle of choice for making white anchovies approachable. She’s currently serving marinated white anchovy bruschetta, made with grilled bread coated with house-made chile and mint butter, topped with white anchovies marinated in red wine vinegar, mint, red chile flakes, sea salt and cracked black pepper, and finished with local micro radish greens. The dish has been so popular that Blount is doing a version for fall with the same anchovies and a house-made herbed ricotta.
Blount, who says she likes both the sustainability and the versatility of anchovies, also uses them in some of her salad dressings, and in an Italian salsa verde, which she sometimes uses in daily specials.
Chef Eric Korsh has been serving anchovy toast off and on for a decade. His current iteration, at North End Grill in New York City, is accompanied by New Jersey tomatoes. Inspired by a recipe from one of his favorite cookbooks, “Lulu’s Provençal Table,” the toast is made by marinating day-old bread in olive oil, herb and garlic, and then crisping it on a wood grill. It’s then spread with a mixture of grated tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt, and topped with a single oil-cured anchovy filet.
“Anchovies are perfect for a few reasons,” Korsh said. “I like their versatility. When eaten fresh, particularly when dredged in flour and fried quickly, they are clean-tasting, craveable and can be eaten whole. They can also be salted and packed in oil, packed in salt, or given a vinegar bath.”
Korsh is also serving sardines on a crouton-like toast, made by cooking white bread in chicken fat. He tops the toast with a wood-grilled sardine and vinaigrette of olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, and finished with a celery leaf chiffonade.
At Connie and Ted’s, a New England-inspired seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, executive chef Michael Cimarusti is appealing to the uninitiated and New England transplants with a smoked bluefish dip served on the restaurant’s house-made saltine crackers (topped with chives, pickled red onion and crumbled, hard-boiled egg). When bluefish isn’t available, Cimarusti sometimes uses another oily fish: mackerel.
Part of Connie and Ted’s menu since it opened more than three years ago, and sold by the pound at Cimarusti’s sustainable seafood market, Cape Seafood and Provisions, Cimarusti says the bluefish dip has always been popular.
“Mackerel and bluefish are two of the most flavorful fish in the sea,” he said. "Bluefish dip is a New England staple. Connie and Ted’s is a Rhode Island-style clam shack with West Coast flavor, therefore bluefish and/or mackerel dip is perfectly appropriate for our menu.”
Correction: Oct. 7, 2016 An earlier version of this story said the smoked bluefish dip was served on Ritz crackers. The restaurant said it is actually served on saltines.