Anchovy stock has always played a big role in my family's diet growing up, certainly unknowingly to me back then. It makes the basic to many different soupy dishes that mom always makes at home - bowls of noodle soup, the many more elaborated soups that we have had every now and then, and this even makes the soup base to which bowls of congee are made. Obviously oblivious to anything happening in the kitchen when I was a kid, this is a discovery that came way later in the years when I have grown up and learned enough to care. It all then make every sense as to how we have never failed to be awed by how flavorful, sweet and perfectly balanced those soups were back then - everything good minus the usual unquenchable thirst from soups you would get dining out. And if there were just one thing that mom was really proud of her cooking, it has got to be the absolutely MSG-free food that she has made over the years, and this is just one of them.
To have a special liking in a good anchovy stock is definitely something that I picked up from mom. To have a preference for a stock appearing to be slightly cloudy rather than an all-clear one, that I must have got the influence from my ex-room mate, ChanSee who has always been a natural in the kitchen. Having the anchovies lightly pan fried in just a little bit of oil is what needed to do the trick, giving it the right color and hue when made into stock later.
Anchovy stock is one that can always be made pure with no unnecessary additives or flavor enhancers needed. What really matters will be the amount and particularly the type of anchovies selected to begin with and the rest will then depend on the way this is prepared. Of equal vital importance here is the surprising fact that unlike many other different kinds of stock, anchovy stock is one that does not get better with prolonged simmering time. 10 to 15 minutes are all it takes, beyond which the sweetness diminishes and the bitterness then dominates. This is good to be made right there and then when required or even well ahead of time. They can be kept refrigerated or frozen in batches for up to two months and come in really handy anytime a good soup base is needed to prep a meal.
Anchovy Stock 江鱼仔上湯
Makes about 2½ L of stock
1 large sweet onion, skin removed and quartered
10 red dates, soaked to soften and seeds removed
1" ginger, halved and crushed
2½ L water
1 tsp cooking oil
1/2 tsp of rock sugar or salt to taste (optional)
1. Begin with soaking the anchovies in warm water for about 10-15 minutes. Bring the anchovies to rinse under running water until the water gets clear. Drain and set aside.
2. Bring a stock pot filled with the water to boil. In this, add in the onion and red dates and let boil.
3. Meanwhile, heat up a large pan with the cooking oil. Once well heated, add in the anchovies and ginger, stirring and turning to lightly sear them.
4. Transfer the content of the pan into the boiling water in the stock pot and set the timer to 15 minutes. Let boil on high heat undisturbed.
5. Once done, remove from heat and give the stock a strain through the sieve removing the residues. The stock is then ready to be used.
If made to be stored, make sure that the stock has cooled down thoroughly before storing them into containers with tight-fitting lids. They are best portioned out and frozen separately, easing future uses especially when only small volumes are needed at times.