This Colatura, Fish Water, has become incredibly popular around here in the last year. Anchovy water or “sauce” is made in the Campania region of Italy on the west coast. To be very specific it is made in the town of Cetara on the Amalfi Coast. This is a fishing port and traditional production of Colatura di Alici is connected to the seasons and fish harvests and has been made here for hundreds of years. Don’t you just love that?. I find it a bit funny really, that we have finally discovered an ingredient that has been used in Italy since the Roman times.
To make the sauce, or water, the anchovies are caught in season, up to about May. If the season is lean with few Anchovies caught then Colatura will be in short supply too. At this time of year they are large and fleshy and as is traditional, they are processed by hand. The heads and bones are removed and then the fish soaked salt brine for 12- 24 hours. After brining, they are stacked head to tail in the traditional manner in oak or chestnut barrels, layer upon layer between Trapani sea salt. The casks are specially prepared, with drainage holes and the fish are weighted with a wooden disc and a heavy object (this would once probably have been a sea stone). The anchovies are left to mature. As they mature the amount of liquid starts to collect, and this is run off and reserved. In October and November all of the collected liquid is poured back over the matured Anchovies, so that it can leach back through the layers collecting more flavour. The water is a crystal clear amber colour after it has been strained through muslin and put into small bottles. It is typically used to flavour spaghetti and linguine, which must be cooked without salt, because the salted anchovies add enough salt to infuse the pasta. In Cetara this dish is typically served on Christmas eve.
It was once tradition to give a vial of this precious sauce to friends and family at Christmas to enhance pasta or vegetables. In it’s simplest form a teaspoon is mixed with some olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and parsley to make a memorable pasta sauce. Italian fish sauce is not as pungent as south east Asian fish sauces. It is a gentler more refined sauce, that still however, needs to be used with a light hand.
Colatura can be used in lots more ways. It can be added to sauces and dressings. Try it with carpaccio- meat or seafood and cooked seafood dishes. Paint some onto the outside of roasted meats before serving or even before roasting or barbecuing. Add to butters and emulsion sauces. Use it to finish a dish adding a salty complex flavour. A few drops on sliced tomatoes with buratta cheese or instead of salt for pan tossed vegetables.