If you want to run an anchovy factory you’re going to need a Maestro Salador. That roughly translates to English as Salt Conductor, but it lacks the nuance that the word holds in Spanish. Maestro Salador is the Foreman of Fish. He guides anchovies through the rooms in the plant, the barrels they age in, changing the temperatures, adjusting the pressing weights, watching salt content over months. He’s essentially running a kind of finishing school for fish, taking a lowly baitfish, turning it into one of the Mediterranean’s real delicacies.
The anchovies Ortiz’s Maestro Salador cures for us are fished in April with traditional purse seine nets that skim silver-skinned anchovies from the surface. This old way of fishing has two effects. It keeps the sea healthier by leaving unneeded fish from the catch, and it bruises fewer fish because hauls are lighter than with drop nets. Once caught, the anchovies are cleaned, salted, stored for 6 months—a little shorter than usual, the maestro says he wants these to remain plump—then filleted and packed in olive oil to order, all by hand. It’s been done pretty much the same way for over a hundred years, each big (about 4-5 inches long), silver and pink fillet a sign that the fish was put in salt the same day it was caught.
There are anchovies and anchovy paste you buy as an ingredient. There are anchovies you buy to chop up and mix into a dish. These are the crème de la crème of ready-to-eat anchovies, the ones you want to eat on their own, whole. Toast, pasta, pizza, sandwiches, or salads, you name it, these are great on top of it. Lay them out on fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers or alongside some quick-grilled mushrooms. Or do like the Basque do at pinxos tapas bars, skewer a fish with a Piparra pepper.