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Grim's Grub: Give that stinky little fish a chance

Anchovies are small, green fish with blue reflections due to a silver-colored longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal (tail) fin. The anchovy eats plankton and recently hatched fish. Anchovies are found in scattered areas throughout the world's oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. - Wikipedia:

For as long as I can remember knowing the word "anchovies," I have turned up my nose at eating them. It didn't help that they were the butt of many Saturday morning cartoon jokes.

An entertaining recipe video in a series called "Frankie's World" got me curious to dive in and try a recipe using these stinky fish. I don't know if I'd like it any other way, but Pasta Putanesca has a lot about it that I like.

First, I love food that comes with a legend. I won't elaborate too much on the legend, but the name itself translates to something along the lines of prostitute's pasta.

In addition, it is a very robust pasta with salty flavors from the anchovies, capers and olives, and there isn't a Grimler alive today who doesn't enjoy salt just a little too much.

Finally, if you hadn't noticed in the past, I like adventurous eating. Put all that together and your friendly food columnist becomes incredibly curious, and it paid off! It was actually really tasty.

The stinky fish wasn't really that noticeable, so I would recommend you give it a try. I will even give you a recipe for milkweed bud capers, but you won't get to use it until next year. But it was fun, simple and delicious.

This recipe also convinced me I need to go catch smelt some day in the future because I have a sneaking suspicion I could substitute salt-packed smelt for anchovies very successfully, so if anyone wants to go smelting in the future, let me know. Otherwise I will have to use my connections to get some commercially harvested smelt instead.

Pasta Puttanesca

Based on

  • ½ pound long noodles, your choice; cook them as you would normally and go easy on salt (reserve water if you are straining the noodles)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced, not pressed or minced
  • 1 2-ounce can filleted anchovies
  • Large pinch red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup capers (you can rinse briefly to reduce saltiness)
  • ¼ cup black olives
  • 4-6 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4-1/2 cup tomato paste
  • Handful minced, fresh parsley leaves

In a medium skillet, combine oil, garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes. Add tomatoes, then puncture them. Cook until garlic is lightly golden, approximately 5 minutes, stirring to break up anchovies. Add capers and olives and stir to combine. If tomatoes have softened enough, you can crush them to create a sauce.

Add your noodles to the sauce along with several tablespoons of the pasta water and tomato paste. Allow this to heat throughout, then add parsley. Serve hot.

Milkweed Capers



  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup milkweed flower buds, washed

Vinegar pickling juice

  • ½ cup white wine vinegar (or a balsamic if you can find a light colored one)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 bay laurel leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme

Boil milkweed flower buds for two minutes and then shock in ice water before squeezing slightly to remove excess water. Pack them into 8-ounce canning jars, leaving headspace.

Make your brine by boiling the water and then mix in the salt to dissolve. Pour the hot brine over the flower buds, cover the jar and let it sit at room temperature for three days.

Drain the salt brine from the jar. Boil the vinegar pickling juice ingredients and then pour it over the brined flower buds. Cover the jar and refrigerate for three days before using. If you want these to be semi-sealed (but not safe by government standards). Cover the jars and invert them while they are hot.

Salt-Packed Anchovies (or smelt)

Courtesy of

  • Anchovies
  • Salt
  • Cold brine (follow the instructions in the capers recipe to make a salt brine)
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Clean the anchovies or smelt by removing their heads and then gut them by cutting their belly from the vent forward and remove the entrails. Rinse them under cold water and brush them out with a toothbrush or similar.

Add a layer of sea salt to the bottom of a glass container, then pack alternating layers of anchovies and salt. Make sure the top layer of anchovies has a layer of salt completely covering them, then pour brine over the anchovies, being sure to cover it all completely with liquid.

Allow the anchovies or smelt to cure in a covered container for three months. At the end of three months, check your anchovies. The flesh should have a light brown color. These anchovies will store in this container up to a year.

When ready to use anchovies, remove as many as you would like to use and remove their spine with you fingers. This should fillet the anchovies (you can use a knife for help). Then soak them in water if you would like to remove some saltiness. You can clean them and store them in olive oil for a short term.