Anchovy extract is a traditional Italian flavouring – rich in umami, and used to salt dishes in the same way that a Chinese cook would use soy. Anchovy extract is often referred to as colatura or colatura di alici, coming from the Latin ‘colare’ meaning ‘to strain’. This describes the artisanal way that the anchovy extract is made. Firstly the anchovies are salted and fermented in wooden barrels. The liquid is then drained, aged and filtered – turning it into a clear, amber-coloured liquid ready to cook with.
In the Roman Empire anchovy extract – then known as garum – was a very popular seasoning, often given to hosts as a gift, much like people now give a bottle of wine. Most food and wine consumed in Ancient Rome spread throughout the Empire, and grew in popularity. But anchovy extract remains something of a secret ingredient, prized by Calabrian chefs.
The amber liquid has intense flavours of the sea, which isn’t overtly fishy, but has salt-brine flavours and is rich in umami. Try mixing the anchovy extract with olive oil at a 1:3 ratio, and use it to dress spaghetti, along with a little garlic and parsley. Also add a spoon of anchovy extract to long-braised marinades for lamb and beef, use it in a salsa verde, and even try using a dash to lift sautéed green vegetables.
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