Why You Should Eat Bread, Butter, and Anchovies This Season
Anchovies are key to umami notes in a Caesar dressing or salsa verde. They’ve whispered their flavor into sauces while olives and capers get all the credit. It’s high time they had their solo — ideally, on a piece of crusty bread slathered with nothing else but cultured butter.
The first time I had bread, butter, and anchovies, all other snacks ceased to exist. My mom and I were so taken with the antipasto at La Loggetta in Cortona, Tuscany — with its homey white-bread toast triangles, knobs of softened butter, and just-opened tin of Spanish fish — that we recreated it at home as often we could. Plates of the snack quickly replaced bowls of chips or cheese boards during happy hour, and when served with a side salad, it often became lunch or dinner altogether.
Like peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, or rice and beans, butter and anchovies is greater than the sum of its parts: There’s really no way to improve it beyond using the highest quality bread — something crusty works best — butter — cultured, unsalted is ideal because it adds tang without making things overly salty — and anchovies — salt-packed are nice but you’ll have to rinse them, so I prefer oil-packed brands from Spain or Italy, like Ortiz or Agostino Recca. That it’s so easy is half the appeal: Three ingredients, a few seconds to put them together, and the confirmation that most great foods are simply the right ratio of salt to fat.
So what gives this specific snack an edge over other savory-unctuous combinations, like chips and dip or fries with mayo?
First is the unexpected depth of such a quick dish. The creamy butter mellows the bite of the anchovy through richness alone — though you can enhance it with a hint of lime zest for freshness or a few finely chopped Calabrian chiles for heat. The bread (or your favorite cracker!) serves as a vehicle of tastiness. Placed in the center of a slice, the filet is the star of the show — and don’t you forget it.
While this snack is good any time, it’s best during cocktail hour with any drink you like. Between bracing sips of a negroni or martini, the anchovy packs a stronger punch. When you feel like celebrating, the rich butter is the perfect complement to a flute of something fizzy. And at times when nothing else is in the pantry, bread, butter, and anchovies often are, and they amount to something that tastes far more special than a dish born out of necessity.
Finally, there’s no cooking or even stirring to be done. Just open the jar, spread the butter, arrange on your favorite plate, and the snack will be elegant in its effortlessness. I love the casual-cool look of La Loggeta’s butter and anchovies, but I’ve also found great satisfaction in creating more time-consuming presentations, like the geometric look above and the fish-and-coral-reef idea below.
I’m aware that anchovies aren’t entirely underrated. They’ve gotten a taste of the stardom they deserve within the last year. In the early days of Covid-19, Alison Roman told you to put a dozen of them in her pasta sauce with caramelized shallots and tomato paste. (It’s amazing.) The Anchovy Bar opened in San Francisco this fall. (They serve bright boquerones on toast with tomato and avocado, among other delights.)
But if you ask me, not enough people are eating them on buttered bread. So toast a loaf, open a jar, and carol the news of a snack that’s so good, so simple, it’s almost a miracle.