Nearly two feet of snow outside makes diving into the pantry much more appealing than schlepping out to the grocery store. Many times, a strategically hoarded jar of anchovies can provide a meal-saving burst of flavor. However, Louis Rozzo, the fourth-generation owner of F. Rozzo and Sons, makes the case that it’s worth a visit to the local fishmonger for fresh anchovies, as well as fresh versions of other traditionally canned fish like sardines and mackerel.
Rozzo explains that there is a very practical reason for why small fish are often found in cans: their high oil content means they spoil quickly. But whenever he receives shipments of fresh sardines, Rozzo makes certain to sell the fish the very same day. “Now, more than ever, you’re able to buy sardines and anchovies fresh, outside of the can,” Rozzo said. “Any time you’re can do that, that is something that is a delicacy. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they’re very flavorful and they have a luxurious, booming taste if they’re cooked right and prepared right.”
He adds that freshness is crucial for oily fish, like bluefish. If it’s less than fresh or improperly prepared, Rozzo warns that it can cause distinct gastro-intestinal distress. On the other hand, he notes that few fish are as delicious as a freshly caught bluefish.
Rozzo, who supplies top New York City seafood restaurants like Aquavit, Le Bernardin and Avoce, notes that more and more chefs like Michael White are using fresh sardines. He provides BLT’s Amy Eubanks with Spanish mackerel, and she cures it for 12 hours. On the other hand, David Chang serves it raw as sushi at his Momofuku restaurants. “The variety of fish [chefs use] is greatly changed because of us being able to bring in fish over night,” Rozzo says.
Rozzo recommends a few simple methods for cooking fish at home. Clean and debone sardines, for example, then sear them on the grill. Anchovies can be fried.
When it comes to canned anchovies, though, Rozzo admits he’s at a loss. “I have to be honest with you, I’ve never had anchovies out of a can because I’m always able to get them fresh,” he says laughing. “I know that sounds a little snobby, but I’m in the fish business.”
Here's a recipe Rozzo likes for warm mackerel tartletta with salsa cruda and aged balsamic from the executive chef of a restaurant he supplies, Marea.
Warm Mackerel Tartletta with Salsa Cruda and Aged Balsamic
by Jared Gadbaw, Executive Chef at Marea at 240 Central Park South
"Since Marea, a coastal Italian restaurant, is heavily focused on seafood, the chef buys fresh mackerel from me every day. I'd like to highlight a wonderful recipe of theirs, which executive chef Jared Gadbaw was kind enough to share with your listeners." —Louis Rozzo
For the tart shell: Whisk 1 cup heavy cream with 3/4 cup all-purpose flour until it forms a thick paste. Add the zest of half a lemon, 1 tsp. salt and some fresh cracked pepper. Spread the paste evenly in a thin layer over a nonstick baking sheet (if the paste is too thick, add a bit of milk until it is manageable). Bake in a 300-degree F. oven for about 8 minutes. It should be firm enough to handle but not yet hard. Using a 3.5" round ring-mold (roughly), punch out rounds and remove excess dough. Return your rounds to the oven and bake until crispy and golden brown.
For the salsa cruda: Seed, peel and dice 3 ripe tomatoes. Add 1 small minced shallot, some good olive oil and salt to taste. Before serving, finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped basil.
For the onion marmalade: Thinly slice 2 onions, and slowly cook them in a pan with olive oil until they are soft and golden brown. Season with salt and a little balsamic vinegar. (If you have it, a nicer, more aged vinegar would be best. If not, you can reduce your vinegar by half and use that.)
To assemble, take your boneless, skinless mackerel fillet and lay whole basil leaves in one layer across the top of the fillet. Slice 1" pieces across the fillet and basil. Using the same mold you punched the shell with, assemble the slices on their sides in the mold so that there is a slice of basil between each piece of fish. Spread a bit of your onion marmalade on your tart shell, and place the molded fish over top. Season with salt, and place under broiler on high for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from mold. Squeeze a little lemon over the fish and plate with a generous spoonful of your salsa. Finish with a little of your balsamic and maybe a little dressed arugula.