Nigella Lawson's Steak with Anchovy Elixir

Nigella Lawson combines an intensely savoury Anchovy Elixir with rare steak to create a dish that's bursting with umami flavours. As seen on the BBC2 series Cook, Eat, Repeat.

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Introduction

In the conventional way of these things, a dip to be eaten with crudités, drink in hand, before you even sit down to dinner, should be presented as the first of these three recipes. But this extraordinary elixir is for me the very apogee of anchovydom; it demands the final place on the podium. This isn’t about favouritism, but more about its essential attributes. For the anchovy lover, there can be no purer celebration of its qualities.

I say a dip, but this is equally a sauce – for steak, roast beef, lamb, whatever you feel like pouring it on or eating it with, and I could pour it over almost anything. It is no beauty, it is true. I write elsewhere about brown food (see p.93 of Cook, Eat, Repeat), but this takes the concept of the boldly unprepossessing one stage further: it is positively grey; actually, it is more what my mother would have called greige.

If Jim Lahey, founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, didn’t already have my eternal gratitude for his no-knead bread method (p.39), this dip, this sauce – what Italians might deliciously and expressively call un intingolo – would be enough to earn all due devotion. He sees it as the recipe that can convert even the most anchovy-averse.

To make this elixir you need saltpacked anchovies, not the ones in oil, and while I have never seen them in the supermarket, they are often stocked by Spanish, Greek and Italian delis; I buy mine, in abundance, online. The directions for preparation on the packets I buy instruct you to soak and then fillet them with your fingers under a running cold tap, but there’s really no need to remove the bones. Think of all that calcium! Once everything’s blitzed in a bullet blender, you really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. If you don’t have a bullet blender, you can make this with a stick blender though the texture may not be quite the same. What this doesn’t work in, I’m afraid, is a food processor.

The crudités you choose to serve with this are of course up to you… But then again, it’s hard to beat the combination of red rare beef and salty grey sauce. I cooked the steak you see opposite – a slice of rump 2.cm thick – for 3 minutes each side in a cast-iron frying pan, rested it in foil for 5 minutes, then sliced it thinly against the grain, flung it excitedly on a plate, dribbled the elixir over it and scattered a few finely chopped chives on top, and dolloped more sauce on my plate as I ate.

I’ve altered Jim Lahey’s original recipe to suit my own tastes. I suggest you do too, so by all means proceed with less garlic and lemon than I have stipulated below, tasting to see if you want, like me, to go for maximum punch.

Makes approx. 350ml

Ingredients

For the anchovy elixir:
100g salt-packed anchovies
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
2½ x 15ml tbsp lemon juice
175ml extra-virgin olive oil
125ml cold water

Essential kit

You will need: a blender or stick blender

Instructions

1. It might be wisest to follow the preparation instructions that come on the packet of your salt-packed anchovies, but what I do is soak them in a dish (about 23cm square) of cold water for 5 minutes, then throw the water out, fill up again, and leave to soak in the fresh water for a further 5. Then rinse each anchovy under the tap with the cold water running, tearing away and discarding the tails. If you want to remove the bones, too, be my guest; you will thereby gain huge respect for those who fillet anchovies for a living. 

2. If using a bullet or other high-speed blender, put the soaked and drained anchovies, and all the remaining ingredients, into it, and blitz until you have a smooth, buff-grey and gloopily fluid sauce.

3. If using a stick blender, put the soaked and drained anchovies into a bowl with the garlic and lemon juice and blitz to a paste. Still blitzing, gradually pour in a third of the oil, and when that’s absorbed, a third of the water, and carry on in this vein until both are used up.

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