Give Puttanesca Sauce A Deeper Taste By Doubling The Anchovies

Anchovies may not be a popular stand-alone fish in the U.S., but they're often the secret ingredient that gives sauces and dressings that special je ne sais quoi. Caesar dressing, Worcestershire sauce, and green goddess dressing are among the most popular sauces to use anchovies, but they've been a key flavor agent in Italian cuisine since the Roman Empire.

Pasta puttanesca is an Italian dish that demonstrates how these tiny fish bestow complexity and depth of flavor on the simplest recipes. In fact, doubling the standard two or three tinned filets in the original recipe would elevate the sauce all the more. Originating in the Southern Italian culinary center of Naples during the mid-20th century, puttanesca sauce consists of garlic, oil, capers, red pepper flakes, olives, crushed canned tomatoes, and, of course, anchovies. Anchovies are equal parts salty and umami, melting into the garlic-infused oil to create a foundation that lives up to the sauce's scandalous name. A few of these oily and flavorful fish are enough to make an impact on any sauce, but a double dose will boost puttanesca's richness by enhancing and complementing the other ingredients.

Extra anchovies will bring an oceanic funkiness and saltiness that will bolster the umami-rich tomatoes and salty olives and capers. They will also add more depth to complementary spicy, earthy, and sweet notes from the chili flakes, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.

Which anchovies to use in puttanesca sauce

Most sauces and dressings call for cured or preserved anchovies, and puttanesca sauce is no different. Cured anchovies come in three varieties: Salt-cured, oil-packed, and paste. Any of these work in puttanesca sauce, but they'll offer slightly different flavor profiles and different preparations. The oil-packed and salt-cured anchovies require draining and rinsing to rid them of excess salt or oil. Salt-cured anchovies are saltier and sharper than oil-packed. Soaking the salt-cured anchovies in water helps dilute their saltiness.

That said, for puttanesca sauce, olive oil-packed varieties or anchovy paste are the best options. Olive oil-packed anchovies are earthier and sweeter, lending a better balance to the salty capers and olives you'll use in the sauce. Anchovy paste often contains garlic, oil, and spices, supplying even more aromatic depth for your sauce. You'll need around twice the number of canned anchovy filets as people, and two teaspoons per person of anchovy paste to double the umami taste in puttanesca sauce. The anchovies will melt into the olive oil beautifully. If you want to balance the briny umami a bigger dose of anchovies might impart, you can squeeze tomato paste in as you fry the anchovies in oil. You can reduce the amount of salt called for in the original recipe or add some extra sugar to compensate for extra anchovies' saltiness, too. Puttanesca sauce is typically served over spaghetti, but it would taste delicious over a filet of white fish, chicken, polenta, or potatoes.