The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.


Anchovy essence

Anchovy essence is a handy cupboard staple that will anonymously enhance just about anything savory that you choose to cook. Your dish will have no hint of fish; it will, however, taste more like itself.

This recipe almost belongs to Maxine de la Falaise, who proves that they do not make names like once they did. She writes in Seven Centuries of English Cooking (London 1973) that “[t]here are many, many recipes for this English essence par excellence. It is said to have been introduced by the Romans, whose liquamen, made from rotting fish, was described by Apicius.” Her recipe, as she notes, derives from several nineteenth century formulae; ours in turn derives from hers.

anchovy.jpg-a 3.35 oz jar of anchovies packed in olive oil
-1 Tablespoon malt vinegar
-1 Tablespoon water
-1 teaspoon lemon zest
-¼ teaspoon cayenne

  1. Drain the anchovies and mash them to a rough pulp; a fork or teaspoon is the only tool you need.
  2. Put the pulped fish into a small pot with the other ingredients and simmer the mixture until very nearly dry.
  3. Push the essence through a wire strainer and pack it into a jar just big enough to hold it.


- Keep the essence in the fridge; even though it is a preserve of itself, it will keep longer there.

- You can use a like amount of canned anchovies; they do not seem, not quite, as good as those from the jar.

- De la Falaise uses wine vinegar instead of our malt. She also specifies less peel and cayenne; proportions are up to you.

- Apparently unknown to Miss de la Falaise, Apicius himself probably never existed, but that is a tale for another time. We are, we know, such teases here at britishfoodinamerica.

- In Unmentionable Cuisine (Charlottesville 1979), Calvin Schwabe describes an anchovy sauce for service with “any roasted viscera of lamb. The sauce works equally well with roast leg or grilled chops. To make unmentionable anchovy sauce, add “chopped, desalted and trimmed anchovy fillets and pepper, chopped parsley, and lemon juice to the degreased pan drippings. Blend this sauce well over medium heat.” (Schwabe 282) To ‘desalt’ the anchovies just rinse them; they are not likely to require ‘trimming.’ For beefsteak, start by deglazing the debris with a splash of red wine. Let it nearly evaporate, then follow Schwabe’s recipe but skip the lemon juice and add enough mashed canned tomato (San Marzanos from Italy are best) instead, for simmering until you get a consistency that you like. We think it should be thick.