As some readers will know, we love an anchovy. Yes, its rich, fishy flavour can be an acquired taste, but persist and it’s the perfect bedfellow for almost every vegetable, fish or meat. Only the other lunchtime I sauteed it with broccoli and garlic and mopped up the juices with crusty bread. And when cooked, it disappears, like a magician’s apprentice, leaving just that more-ish taste.
Pissaladiere is a snack you may have eaten in the South Of France, or even the Italian region of Liguria, where they probably chuck in a bit of mozzarella. It’s all about the sweetness of caramelised onions juxtaposed with the hit of salty old seadog anchovies. Its etymology is from ‘peis salat’, which means ‘salted fish’ in Nicard, the dialect spoken in the hoary Mediterranean city. In fact, it reminds me of an afternoon years ago spent sheltering from torrential rain in Nice, where my friend Fi made me try a slice for the first time.
This is a historical dish, too, apparently introduced to the area by the Romans, and can be considered a type of white pizza, as no tomatoes are traditionally used. The dough is usually thicker than that of the classic Italian pizza dough, and the staple topping consists of those onions with olives, garlic and anchovies (either whole or in the form of pissalat, a type of anchovy paste). The idea is that the anchovies shouldn’t totally overpower, but keep the interest alive every couple of bites.
Our version is inspired by a recipe from Rocksalt Folkestone chef Mark Seargent, and is lazily constructed with shop-bought puff pastry (where’s our Patisserie Diarist when we need her?)
And our top recommendation locally to peruse a broad range of anchovies is the wonderful Phoenicia Food Hall. Although Earth undoubtedly have some fine ones too, and don’t forget the many world food stores along Queen’s Crescent.
Serves 4 as a starter
Puff Pastry (400g)
1 tin good quality anchovies drained (and rinsed)
A handful of Thyme leaves
50g marinated white anchovies drained
4 medium red onions
A clove or two of garlic
50g black or green olives
Roll out puff pastry to 5mm thick and divide into four. Rest in fridge for 20 mins and then bake for 20 mins (with baking sheet). Caramelise onions for 20 mins at very least to make them sweet and unctuous. This should be done on a very low heat, in butter, with the thyme, until they are soft and amber coloured. You could add a touch of garlic (a clove or two) half way into cooking. Spread on cooked pastry, criss-cross with the rinsed salted anchovies and add some marinated fresh ones on top for additional flavour, if you like, plus black (or green, as shown) fresh sliced olives. A more traditional way (and equally good) is to assemble the dish, with the onions already caramelised, on uncooked pastry and then chuck it in the oven. Serve as a starter or light lunch with an avocado and little gem salad.
A very controversial alternative (see above main pic) is to try a variation which replaces the caramelised onions with tomatoes. Here you could make an anchoiade by mashing up salted drained (and rinsed) anchovies with a few capers, a small clove of garlic and dash of lemon. Smear this over the cooked pastry then add some sweet ripe sliced heritage tomatoes, olives and fresh marinated anchovies.
Both are good, although the version with caramelised onions has, of course, the edge.
Words & pics: Stephen Emms
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