Every American I know loves pizza. It’s a universally loved food and you can pretty much put whatever topping you like. But there’s one pizza topping that people in the States don’t care for at all – and that’s anchovies. I mean it’s not as controversial as the pineapple in Italy. Coincidentally, the anchovy pizza has a history in Italian cooking.
In Italy, anchovies have been a traditional pizza topping for many, many years. Ancient Romans would eat flatbreads and place garum (a fermented fish sauce from sardines, mackerel and anchovies) over the bread. Back then, pelagic fish was bountiful in the Mediterranean, and after fermentation, they don’t spoil.
The use of anchovies on breads in Italy predates the use of tomato sauce in their cuisine. The tomato was only introduced to them in the 16th century when Spaniards brought tomato seeds back from their trips overseas.
Of course, the ancient Romans did not eat flatbreads. The pizza as we know it today was first created in the 18th century in Naples. Back then it was considered a staple food for the masses.
The earliest pizza pie was the Marinara – and it was basic dish with anchovies and tomato sauce. Low-class families in Naples turned to inexpensive, abundant, and easily preservable anchovies to give flatbreads an umami (savory) flavor at little to no cost.
Meanwhile, in the late 1800s, Italian immigrants in the US introduced the pizza and it quickly gained popularity. At first, Americans were eating pizza with anchovies but it didn’t take long before it was replaced with more commonly found ingredients in the US. In the 1950s, frozen pizzas came into the picture and by then, pretty much anything was used as toppings and the anchovies were eventually all but forgotten.
Anchovies on pizza are great but only if you know how to cook them and where to source them from. Anchovies, just like prosciutto, need to be cured for a long time as this is the only way the salty, savory and fruity flavors develop.
Nowadays, very few stick with the original recipe for the Neapolitan pizza. The use of anchovies in the American culinary world came late, but it did justice to the fish. Anchovies work well as sauce, rub or dressing. It can elevate your pizza dish too.
Naturally if you ask someone who’s never tried anchovies pizza before, they may show disgust about the idea of putting fish on pizza. But the truth is, anchovies on pizza is actually very good. The combination of salty and garlicky fish on a flatbread with cheese and tomato is fantastic.
The taste of anchovy pizza is a combination of salty and fruity. The moment you take the first bite, you might immediately notice the immense saltiness. But you’ll get used to it the more you eat it. And you will love it.
Unfortunately, not many people actually even try it. Perhaps it’s because there is just too many topping options these days?
Pizzerias like Boston Pizza still offer anchovy pizza on their menu. But it’s one of the least favorite option except maybe for the Italians.
Learn more about anchovies on pizza here: