If you like anchovies (and who reading my site doesn’t?), you’ll love the elegant, stinky syrup called colatura. It’s made from the runoff from the anchovy salting process, which I guess doesn’t sound particularly elegant, but believe me this stuff is suave. When anchovies are salted for curing, they’re layered in wooden barrels, pressed, and weighted from the top to get rid of air and make a tight package. A little hole is made at the base of the barrel for the briney liquid that’s released to gradually drip out; this is colatura ( which actually means dripping or trickling in Italian). The little bottle I now have in my kitchen was produced in Cetara, a coastal village in Campania, by a company call Nettuno, which also, as you’d expect, turn out salted anchovies, very excellent ones too.
To my palate colatura tastes less fishy than anchovies. I can’t imagine why, but this clear, amber liquid, which resembles a light maple syrup, in looks only, has a very clean fish taste, not as fermented as Nuoc Mam, the Vietnamese equivalent, which is made from pickled fish, giving it that extra funkiness. Possibly colatura is closer to garum, the ancient Roman fish sauce that flavored so much of the food of antiquity, which is something I’ve always had a perverse romantic fascination with.
Colatura is often given as a gift at Christmastime in Southern Italy, families often making their own. And it makes a good participant in the traditional Southern Italian Christmas Eve fish dinner, being, as I discovered, an especially excellent ingredient in a fish-based pasta sauce, providing that extra jolt of flavor that makes certain dishes memorable. Last night I tossed up a pound of spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, and fresh hot chilies, adding a tablespoon of colatura and a handful of parsley leaves at the last minute. I’m sure you could toss in shrimp or calamari as well. On another evening, a few drops stirred into melted butter and drizzled over a grilled steak was absolutely delicious, and surprisingly unfishy as well; it just intensified the meatiness of the meat. I have yet to try it as a sauce for fish, but can imagine mixing a few drops with olive oil and herbs and lemon and drizzling it over scallop crudo. I’ve just started playing with this stuff and will no doubt come up with other interesting ways to work it into my cooking, but anywhere you’d be tempted to include anchovy (a Caesar salad for instance), you could try a hit of colatura instead. The aroma alone will be your guide to how much you should reasonably use, but just as an example, mixing two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil with about a teaspoon of colatura gave me a delicious, not too heady dressing for a simple salad . I’m very happy with my bottle, and soon I’ll order another one.
Nettuno colatura can be ordered from www.gustiamo.com.
Radicchio and Frisée Salad with Colatura and Toasted Almonds
1 medium head frisée lettuce, torn into small bits
1 small head round radicchio, cored and ripped into pieces
A handful of basil leaves, left whole
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, left whole
A palmful of sliced almonds, lightly toasted
10 good-sized shavings grana padano cheese
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon colatura
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the frisée and radicchio in a wooden salad bowl. Add the basil and parsley and almonds. Shave on the grana padano.
In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and colatura. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over the salad, and drizzle on the dressing. Toss gently, and serve right away.