anchovies -- best brand?
Babbo uses the Agostino Recca brand, packed in salt.
Russ & Daughters stocks the Ortiz brand in oil, which they say is the best and I like a lot.
Salt-packed are meatier than oil-packed, but be sure to get them from a place with lots of turnover or they get slimy. When firm, theyre easy to clean. Press the body apart from the bottom with your fingers and peel out the spine. They're available in Hong Kong Supermarket outlets, http://www.latienda.com and http://www.markys.com/ and canned at Jerrys in Englewood and Teitel Bros. in Belmont, Bronx.
If you have to use anchovy paste, Rizzoli is decent. Amore is dreadful.
If you get the imported, Cantabrian anchovies are famous.
In red pasta sauce, add anchovies and a splash of OJ.
Soak anchovy spines in milk for 30 min., dredge in flour and fry in (non-virgin) olive oil.
Put a few in all braises.
Anchovy (and rosemary) butter for steaks and chops
Melt in butter and olive oil to coat potatoes before roasting.
Stuffed loin of pork 6 anchovies, onion, EVOO, chard.
Red cabbage salad: cook sliced cabbage in vinegar, water and salt; marinate in the fridge overnight. Squeeze moisture and add a puree of anchovies and olive oil plus chopped parsley and black pepper.
The French have really good anchovies from Collioure such as the Roque brand. The Spaniards also have some excellent catch from Cantabrian Sea, such as El Velero. In Italy the tradition of salting anchovies is strongest in Sicily with brands like Recca and Rizzoli. The packing plants are mostly clustered around the town of Sciacca, near Palermo. This tradition goes all the way back to the ancient Roman empire, and if you visit ruins along the coast you can still find pits dedicated to salting and curing anchovies and garum (usually just outside the town walls, so that the smell wouldn't be... erm... too overwhelming).
To answer the original question, the best tasting anchovies are salt or brine packed. You can find good anchovies in olive oil but the amazing mineral and briny notes are muted and the texture is more gummy. And a lot of times the oil isn't that good to begin with. So buying a reputable brand of salted anchovies is key, but I couldn't say which one is best.
One of the things that is hugely important, though, is the age, and storage conditions. Just because they are packed in salt doesn't mean that their flavor won't change with age and heat. Many sellers seem to forget that and they stay on store shelves way past their prime. Anchovies are usually packed in between april and september (in Italy at least), then they are then aged for at least two months. That's the best time to buy them. The storage conditions should be like those of wine or cured meats: in a cellar at a cool, constant temperature. You can store several unopened tins and see how their flavor evolves with time (I do ;).
Before using them, soak them in water for 10 to 45 minutes depending on how salty you want them or how big they are. (I think milk is only good to remove the metallic taste of bad anchovies). Eat them on a hot piece of bread, a little slice of cold butter, and the plump anchovy fillet on top. I wouldn't trade a good anchovy for a tin of caviar.
I know that salt packed are the best because Marcella told me so. Thus inspired I bought a large can. It looked like way too many anchoives for me to ever use. Anyway, after reviewing Marcella's instructions I went back to the oil packed in a jar. Mario Batalli can do it for me when I eat there. Don't know the brand--it is whatever I see in my Italian grocery (never buy that stuff at the fancy one)
Some say salt-packed are better, but you have to filet them yourself I think. For logistical ease I buy the Ortiz brand in a jar, packed in oil. They are a bit more expensive than other brands, but have really good flavor (and they come with a nice little fork think stuck to the jar). I think Cook's Illustrated or another mag also rated them the best.