When the moon is big and bright and my dad goes out fishing for larger fish, he uses whole anchovies as bait. (The size of the moon determines which fish you go for and what time of night you set off.) He travels further to find the big fish in the deeper waters that are less disturbed by the moonlight. He says, “No lights on the boat, Marianna—the darker the better—they won’t know we are here.”
Only the freshest anchovies in the market are purchased for bait and I used to love “stealing” a few handfuls to deep-fry and eat with lots of lemon juice. The herby potato salad and rich mayonnaise just add to the whole experience.
Serves 4 to 6 as a sharing plate
For the Cooked Lemon Mayonnaise
- 2 whole unwaxed lemons
- 3/4 cup (5 1/2 ounces) sugar
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
For the Anchovies and Potatoes
- 18 ounces Cyprus or russet potatoes, peeled and halved
- 1 small bunch each of parsley, mint, and dill, finely chopped
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for deep-frying and drizzling
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 18 ounces fresh anchovies, cleaned and kept whole
- Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- Zest of 1 unwaxed orange
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
For the mayonnaise, place the lemons in a small pan with the sugar and salt and cover them with water. Cook over medium heat for about 40 minutes or until they are really soft.
Remove the lemons from the pan, reserving the liquid, cut them in half, and discard the seeds. Put the lemons with a touch of the liquid in a food processor and process until very smooth. It should look similar to curd. You won’t need all of this for this dish, but I always make more than I need since it keeps forever in the fridge.
Put the potatoes in a pan of salted water. Cook over medium heat until soft but not falling apart, then drain. When cool enough to handle, cut them into discs and place in a bowl.
Season the herbs with salt and toss them in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Place a pan over high heat and, when it’s hot but not smoking, add the herbs and wilt for a minute or two. Remove from the pan and add to the potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, heat a generous 3/4 cup olive oil in a pan. Put the anchovies in a bowl and season generously with salt. Add the lemon and orange zest to the anchovies and dust them in flour. Don’t shake them too much—you want a nice thick coating. When the oil is hot, place the anchovies carefully in the pan and fry until golden. Remove using a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
Mix the mayonnaise with 1 tablespoon of the cooked lemon purée and serve alongside the fish and potato salad or, if you prefer, you can mix it in the salad and make it a bit richer.
Recipe reprinted with permission from “Aegean: Recipes from the Mountains to the Sea” by Marianna Leivaditaki. Published by Interlink Books.