Mrs. Grant’s ‘anchovie tosts’ from The Receipt Book of Elizabeth Raper, her maiden name, are elemental and ancient English dainties, an embodiment of succulent simplicity. The English imported anchovies preserved in barrels at least as early as the Medieval period and the small fermented fish represent a foundational element of the nation’s traditional foodways, for use not only in savories like this one but as a stealth flavoring in array of sauces, stews, braises and roasts.
The sentence-long recipe, is, like all of Mrs. Grant’s, a gem requiring little elucidation. Its eighteenth century spelling has been retained for atmospheric purposes.
“Take your anchovies, wash and bone them, then cut some long square slices of bread about the length of your anchovies, fry them in oil or butter, let them cool then spread on side of them with butter or pour oil over them, lay half an anchovie on each piece, then place them on a dish and put some chopt parsley and bread crums over them, do them over with a salamander or in a slow oven, but not too much.”
-You may need neither to bone your anchovies nor to divide them in half depending on their size.
-Nor need you fry the bread. These days those of us who are not French tend to have toasters.
-The modern household analog of a salamander is a broiler in the United States or grill in the United Kingdom. Restaurants of course are nearly universally equipped with salamanders themselves. We would not recommend the use of the slow oven.
-Canned white anchovies packed in olive oil are bigger and milder than the deep brown fermented ones. The taste much like canned sardines and are a bright alternative to the excellent original ingredient. If you use white anchovies you may want to dribble the merest film of olive oil over their topping of crumb and parsley before blasting the toasts under the broiler.
-Another appealing alternative; paint the toast with mustard instead of butter before topping it with the fish and its topping in turn.
-These toasts are useful for entertaining a crowd. You can make them in advance, broil them as needed and pass them around with the drinks before your gusts sit down to dinner.