Anchovies: Vital to a balanced diet

As hard as it may be to believe, anchovies are becoming an endangered species on American dining tables.

Once a necessary ingredient for Caesar salad, an integral part of any antipasto platter and a tangy addition to the otherwise mundane, cardboard pizza we so frequently encounter these days, the once-beloved anchovy has slipped out of favor and is gradually being forgotten by nouvelle cuisine sissies who think adding a pinch of feta cheese to an entree is taking a walk on the wild side.

Formerly the toast of Monterey Bay – and a lot of other cool places where seawater collects in large quantities – the once-proud anchovy has been relegated to the dusty back shelves of kitchens from Clackamas to Chickahominy.

I don’t know exactly where or when the current American anchovy avoidance phenomenon began, but it’s become alarmingly widespread and I fear anchovies may go the way of pickled pigs feet if something isn’t done soon to save the delightfully salty little fish fillets.

I first became aware of the problem several months ago when, in the midst of a pizza frenzy, I called my favorite pizzeria and demanded, in no uncertain terms, a big ol’ combination pizza for immediate pickup.

“And don’t spare the anchovies!” I bellowed cheerfully.

There was an ominous silence at the other end of the line, followed by a puzzled adolescent whine.

“Is that, like, some kinda mushroom? I don’t think we got any right now,” my young order clerk responded tentatively.

When I explained that anchovies where delectable little strips of prepared fish that could be used to make any pizza a veritable work of art, the young man expressed serious doubt.

“Dude … fish?”

I eventually got someone who knew what anchovies were and was assured that they were available.

When I went to pick up my pizza, however, the anchovies were crammed into a little plastic container.

“We weren’t sure you really wanted us to put the little fish guys on your pizza…” my server explained.

I, of course, attributed the entire episode a case of mass hysteria brought on by, perhaps, hallucinogenic mold in the pizza dough.

It wasn’t until I ordered a Caesar salad at a downtown Vacaville eatery a few weeks ago that I realized the true depth of the problem.

Trouble started when the waitress asked if I wanted a chicken Caesar salad.

No, I pointed out, if I’d wanted a chicken salad, I would have asked for one.

Caesar salads, I explained gently, contain anchovies.  Please, I begged, don’t forget the anchovies.

Needless to say, they forgot the anchovies.

Eventually, the waitress showed up with a small stainless steel container of anchovy filets and pushed them gingerly toward my salad, then darted quickly back.

Yes, amigos, we’ve got a significant culinary problem on our hands and we’ve got to solve it soon.

Join with me in ordering anchovies wherever you go – in salads, on pizza, with pasta and, if you dare, on cheeseburgers. Don’t take no for an answer because the fate of this plucky little ocean dweller rests in our hands.

Originally published October 12, 2003

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