Sunday, July 12, 2009
La Escala Anchovies: A Genuine Catalan Product vs The Competition
There are plenty of brands selling bottled or canned anchovies. A good anchovy should not be too salty or dry and they are better in plain olive oil although the ones that come salted make better fillets once gutted and cleaned. I am no expert but as a good consumer I can tell by the taste and sometimes by the look. In fact I used to sell anchovies for a small company catering bars. I had to distribute small plastic containers full of fillets. I remember they were sold as L'Escala anchovies (Cat. anxoves). To tell you the truth they were not too genuine. Our anchovies (L'Escala is a fishermen town in Costa Brava), have a great rival: Cantabric anchoas or boquerones. You can tell the difference sometimes by the color or the degree of dryness but mainly by the taste due to curing differences. As it happens with all good brands it is difficult to come across the authentic product. They must carry the original label and preferably some small tag inside the can or bottle. I have had the opportunity to try them both and I can assure you they really mark the difference compared to other anchovies (Palamos anchovies are a great option). Personally I prefer Cantabric anchovies but of course that might be considered as some kind of "treason" since they are not Catalan. I think that food is food and knows no boundaries. Some local-product defenders go crazy for Jabugo ham or Burgos morcilla (Black pudding) and that does not seem to tarnish their unpolluted image. Well, I do like both but I like the Cantabric ones better. The species is the same though: engraulis encrasicolus or European anchovy, the difference lies in the habitat which is more appropriate up north according to experts. I won't talk more about the competition. L'Escala has been engaged in the process of curing anchovies since 1940. It is more home-made, less industrialized, applying salt curing techniques inherited from the Greek (the ruins of Empuries nearby are good proof). Due to the low amount of this fish to the north of Spain, captures have been temporarily banned by the government so Mediterranean anchovies are being more demanded than ever. I don't want to bother you with stats or details. My point today is to show you how the label on the bottle looked so you can spot the good ones, to remind you that these two regions lead the market here and finally to emphasize that the anchovies you can buy in other countries, specially in America are not by any chance all the good they are supposed to be (more recently they can be bought on gourmet stores or online) so when you visit Spain buy yourself some good bottle of anchovies, oil-packed or salt-packed (they are not that expensive!), and don't miss the opportunity to treat yourself with exquisite new flavors. Oh, I almost forgot, help yourself with some pa amb tomaquet, some Manchego, Cabrales or Valdeon blue cheese and a good bottle of Albarino or Rueda wine. An even better idea is to go and visit El Xampanyet, on Carrer Montcada 22, one of the best places in Barcelona to try good anchovies among other tapas. But that is part of a different story...
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