Accidental "Anchovies"

"Anchovies" close-up

First off, a disclaimer - this is not a recipe for anchovies, in fact, no anchovies were used/harmed in this recipe at all. Right, you're probably wondering why this post is titled so then. 

Well truth be told, I have too much of a thing for alliteration. It’s a habit I miiight need to kick, but then again, good ones can be so satisfying to read! It's like how some people have a thing for (bad) puns, well I have a thing for alliteration that are so bad they're good... (See my previous posts for possibly incriminating proof.)

The titular reason for the post though is that I did actually accidentally over-cure some mackerel for a salad-dinner I made for my sister a few weeks back. While the recommended time for quick-curing fish is anywhere from 5 minutes - 30 minutes, I left my mackerel fillets in the cure for a good 2 hours before finally remembering them. Though that salty, moisture-sucking piece of fish did make the meal close to inedible (sorry sis), it reminded me so much of the briny, saliva-inducing kick you get from an unexpected bite of anchovy in a Caesar-inspired salad or a proper Italian pizza or pasta (except x1000 the potency in this case).

But in the spirit of the Chef Dan's (& Bourdain's) new Wasted! film, instead of putting this error in judgement behind me and vowing to never overcure fish again, I wondered if this over-salted mistake could be adapted to function in the same capacity as those canned anchovies. So yup, I did go and overcure another batch of mackerel, on purpose this time, just for experimental purposes. I cured it in a 1:1 salt-sugar mixture, added a bit of lemon zest and a spent vanilla pod (just to turn that #wastED factor up a notch), dried it off, and I guess it sorta works!

You can use them like you would anchovies/dried bonito/ikan bilis - in salads, ricebowls and the like to instantly add a sharp, almost-msg-like saltiness you didn't know you were missing (but now definitely want more of). Or blend them into sauces for an instant depth of umami. They're such umami bombs using them almost feels like cheating. Almost

So say goodbye to those stinky, over-brined slivers of floppy anchovies packed to death into overly sterile tin cans, and say hello to fresh, home-made, instant uppercuts of umami! (Sorry, just had to end with a terrible alliteration there. :P)

Whole mackerel
Mackerel post-curing
"Anchovies" in jar
DSC04530.jpg

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"Anchovies"

makes 6 slices of "anchovies"

Ingredients:

3 small mackerel fillets (you can use any other oily fish really!)
60g salt
60g sugar
any aromats you fancy (e.g. lemon or orange zest, dill, cumin seeds etc.)
100ml olive/vegetable oil

Method:

  1. Put the salt, sugar, and all other aromatics in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Prepare the mackerel fillets (remove pinbones if they're large), then pat them dry. (Here’s a link if you've bought a whole fish and need help filleting them.)
  3. Place a third of the curing mix in a shallow tray/container, then carefully position your mackerel fillets on top of the curing mix, skin-side down, avoiding any overlaps. Distribute the remaining cure evenly on top of the fillets. Leave to cure in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
  4. Wash off the excess salt from the mackerel fillets and pat them dry. To help them dry off, you can put them in a dehydrator, or in an oven at a low temperature (~50°C) overnight. 
  5. To store, keep in an airtight container/mason jar submerged in olive oil (or any neutral oil works fine too). 
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