There are some things that just MUST be eaten when in Greece: vine-ripe tomatoes, freshly pressed olive oil, tree-ripened figs, watermelon and cantaloupe and the fresh fish – anchovies in particular. Erase whatever preconceived notion you have of the anchovy. Forget about the salty tinned or jarred variety or that pizza with the dreaded anchovies on top. FORGET IT!
Anchovies in Greece are abundant (for now), are affordable and they are just as healthy as they are delicious. Anchovies are found at the many local fish mongers fresh – not in a can or salted. Greeks do cure fresh anchovies and store them in the fridge for future Ouzo sessions but again, they are homemade using fresh anchovies. Another favourite is the fried anchovy where everything but the tail is eaten….spine and all (get your calcium kick)!
Anchovies are much like sardines (smaller of course) in that they are packed with the same Omega-3 fatty acids that have attracted us to salmon. Anchovies are wild-caught in the sea, are sustainable and since they are low in the food chain, no fear of mercury exposure (as with larger fish like salmon or tuna).
A visitor to Greece will find larger fish at fishmongers and on display at finer fish and seafood tavernas but they are either farm-raised or quite expensive. Eat what the locals eat – you will find Greeks eaten bogue, smelts, sardines and anchovies…all fresh, all delish and very affordable. Today’s dish is a quick an easy dish that’s delicious beyond the ease of preparation. Simplicity rules here and the success of the dish hinges on fresh anchovies, in season ingredients and the best olive oil you can find (Greek of course). Us Greeks call anchovies “gavros’ and this dish is called Gavros Saganaki. Saganaki refers to the tw0-handled vessel that it’s served in and there are many varieties of saganaki dishes. Think beyond the “flaming cheese”.
Gavros are easy to clean as they have no scales and when you cut the head of most of the guts give away as well. This dish is served as a meze offering that’s good with either an Ouzo or white wine. From cleaning the anchovies to cooking up the dish, it’s served in about 30 minutes. You’ll need a vegetable or seafood stock (or salted water), white wine, olive oil and sweet red peppers along with some hot banana peppers for a little heat. The mustard helps thicken the sauce and offers some tangy bottom while the parsley and oregano brighten the dish along with the mandatory squeeze of lemon juice. I think I’ll make this again for Fish Friday.
Gavros Saganaki (Γαύρος Σαγανάκι)
(makes a meze/appetizer plate for 4)
approx. 1 lb. of fresh anchovies (25-30), heads removed & gutted (rinsed wel)
1/2 cup vegetable stock (or seasoned water)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil + extra oil for drizzling
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp. good mustard (Dijon)
1/4 cup diced red peppers
1 mildly hot banana pepper, sliced into rings
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
squeeze of lemon juice
- Add the stock, wine, olive and mustard in a bowl and whisk until incorporated. Now place a small skillet on your stove-top over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the liquid for 5-7 minutes or until slightly thickened. Adjust the flavourings of the liquid with salt, more wine (if needed) or olive oil.
- Now add the diced red peppers and stir in followed by adding the anchovies into the skillet (arrange them in a circular fashion for a nice presentation). Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes then turn the heat off , add the slice hot peppers (cover again) and allow the anchovies to cook through with the residual heat for an additional 5 minutes.
- Uncover and add the dried Greek oregano, chopped fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Adjust seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with some good crusty bread and a chilled bottle of Domaine Claudia Papayianni Ex Arnon White 2010.
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