For Me to Know and You to Find Out

Last Thanksgiving, after much reply-all-ing — and many quality hours spent with Sam Sifton’s manuscript for Thanksgiving, How to Cook it Well — the menu my mom, dad, sister, brother, Andy, and I came up with for the big feast was the following:

Mom’s Classic Herb-Roasted Turkey
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots
Three-Pepper Sausage Cornbread Stuffing  (from Thanksgiving, by Sam Sifton)
Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy Breadcrumbs (ibid)
Butternut Squash with Sage Butter (ibid)
Mashed Potatoes (ibid)
Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans and Mandarin Oranges
Chocolate Pudding Pie with Whipped Cream
Hominy Grill’s Buttermilk Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Maple-Bourbon Pecan Pie 

As usual, my brother would bring the snacks — some goodies from Zabar’s — and my father would be in charge of the wine.  I emailed the finalized line-up to everyone for official sign-off. Except I left out one very important word in the cauliflower dish.

I left out the word “anchovy.”

Why? I find there are two kinds of people in this world: People who understand the kind of umami blast an anchovy imparts to a dish, and people who see the word “anchovy” and think only of greasy, smelly, peel-back tins of castor-oil fishiness. (Put it this way: It’s the kind of ingredient my mother might call… interesting.) I sat squarely in camp two until about a decade ago when my friend and coworker Pilar pitched a three-page story to our editor about how anchovies are the secret to making everything taste better. (The response: “I think we better write the garlic story first.”)

In any event, I was happy to have Sifton validate my covert anchovy operation in the headnote of the cauliflower recipe. This is what he wrote:

“It is important to note that this dish does not have an anchovy flavor. Indeed, there is no reason ever to tell anyone who eats this dish that there are anchovies in it. The taste is merely salty and rich — and reflects beautifully off the sweet, creamy taste of the cauliflower beneath its slightly crunchy breadcrumb topping.”

To which I will add that the dish was a true showstopper…amidst a bounty of showstoppers. After one forkful I decided this was the recipe that was most deserving of side dish stomach real estate. My brother-in-law Nick — some day we will write about his great, if bizarre, love of cauliflower — looked up mid-bite and asked “What is in this?” (We didn’t answer.) At least four-sixths of the under-10 set around the table had a helping without a complaint. Yes, this one was destined to be a keeper. The only downside of no one being turned off by the anchovies was that no one was turned off by the anchovies…so I couldn’t go back for seconds.

Roasted Cauliflower with Breadcrumbs that May or May Not Contain Anchovies
From Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, by Sam Sifton

2 heads cauliflower
8 to 10 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
Zest of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

For the anchovy breadcrumbs:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Break cauliflower into florets and toss in a bowl with sage, lemon zest, sugar, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread out on a large baking sheet. Place in oven and cook until tender and golden, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare breadcrumbs. Heat olive oil in a saute pan set over medium heat. When oil shimmers add the anchovies, garlic, shallot, and breadcrumbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until golden.

3. In a large bowl, toss together cauliflower and breadcrumbs and serve on a warmed platter.

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A Plum By Any Other Name

I will forever be a champion for anchovies. They’re misunderstood and occasionally have to be talked about in hushed conversations, like you’re discussing an unsavory uncle.

I’m not certain what it is about cauliflower that takes so kindly to it, but it does. I made a cauliflower, anchovy and olive pizza a few months ago … and this reminds me it’s worth having again. Your dish sounds right up my fishy alley. (Ew, too much?)


Anchovy breadcrumbs were a big hit at our table, quieting the usual objections about asparagus (that delicious Melissa Clark recipe for Pan-roasted asparagus with anchovy breadcrumbs and fried egg). Can’t wait to try them on cauliflower! Nobody objects to the anchovies (seriously, they licked the bowl)–it’s the vegetables we have to sneak under them.


We have roasted cauliflower weekly at our house from that first nip of fall through the end of spring. Never ever thought to use anchovies. Brilliant. Do you have a favorite brand? I generally shop at Whole Foods, so I feel any brand is responsibly farmed, but there are still so many choices.


roasting breadcrumbs is too much work for me so i do this in a good vinaigrette. tossed with warm cauliflower and chopped parsley, it’s always a hit.

in my house capers have the same impact. i use them interchangeably and the response is always, “this is so good!”

also, i roast cauliflower and similar veg at 450. it keeps them a bit crunchy and gives better caramelization.


I’ve been trying to get up the guts to try adding anchovies for a while now, and just used some for the first time Saturday! And I have two questions, so your post is so timely:
1) Should you always rinse anchovies? I got the ones packed in olive oil from Trader Joe’s, and had no idea that rinsing was part of the deal.
2) How long do they last in the fridge, after they have been opened?


jenny, think it would still be as good without the sage or something in its place?
sage to me= olives to you



I completely get your point, but I can think of at least one reason why it’s considerate to disclose the presence of anchovies in an otherwise vegetable-based dish: so vegetarians know it’s not safe for them to eat.


i GET the whole anchovy -umami thing, but not going to deny that the thought of adding anchovies to things def gives me pause. but i never regret it afterwards.


Is there a way to do this as at least somewhat make-ahead? I think make-ahead is the name of the game for Thanksgiving prep.

Laura Miller

OK, this is all great about the cauliflower but I couldn’t read anything after Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. . . can we get the secret recipe for that? Please? Bourbon makes everything better too, btw. Especially tiresome inlaws. Not that I have those.


I find it is frequently a good idea to leave out “interesting” ingredients from descriptions when dealing with picky eaters.


Love this! The recipe looks amazing. Anchovies are so delicious, sustainable, and healthy – thank you for helping to bring them into favor!


Yes!!! Every Christmas Eve I make a potatoes au gratin dish that has anchovies in it that was my grandfather’s recipe. My favorite as a kid, and I didn’t know it had anchovies in it until I asked for the recipe as an adult. Rinsing them off is key.


Made this cauliflower tonight with Tony’s steak and steamed French beans. To die for….thanks Sam, Tony, and Jenny…a perfect dinner!!

Megan Flowers

I am definitely making this this year! I have a weird love for Cauliflower. It developed a few years ago and it is only getting worse. I serve cauliflower way more often than my husband would prefer. I have started putting in the food processor and making “rice” out of it. I cannot get enough. Thanks for the recipe!!


I halved this recipe last night (and used thyme instead of rosemary) and my husband and I polished off an entire cauliflower between the two of us! Delicious.


I halved this and made it this weekend to preview it before the big day. Delish! My seven year old, who knew it had anchovies but comes with no preconceived notions, said, “Yum! This is really good! It has an aftertaste, though….” “Yes?” “Mmm hmm, a good one! Like….like tater tots!”


No room in my oven for this on Thanksgiving, so I made it tonight. It was delicious (and the first time I’ve ever knowingly eaten anchovies)!


Gave anchovies a chance while in Spain this fall – who knew? I loved them! I’m going to try to get this on the menu for Thanksgiving!


Looks fantastic – two of my favorite things! My favorite anchovy recipe is grilled shrimp with anchovy butter from the first volume of the Canal House Cooking series. (You can find an adapted version of the recipe online if you google it.) It is amazing, and takes about 4 minutes.


I am so making this for Thanksgiving! I wish it could be made ahead, but something tells me those breadcrumbs need to be freshly done. Everyone in my family (but me) thinks anchovies are “interesting,” and most everyone hangs out in the kitchen while the meal is being made, so I can’t imagine keeping such an “interesting” ingredient secret, but I’ll try! Wish me luck!!


What exactly are “fresh” bread crumbs? I have two thanksgiving recipes that call for this and I’m never sure what they are or how to make them. Will regular old store bought breadcrumbs suffice?


HeatherP – Yes, you can definitely use regular breadcrumbs, but it’s super easy to make fresh ones. I usually take day-old bread (or even fresh works) and just give it a whirl in the food processor. Pretty much any bread works. Except I wouldn’t go with sourdough or whole grain bread for this recipe. Keep it simple. Good luck.


I made this as my side dish contribution for Thanksgiving with the in-laws and it was a huge hit! My sister-in-law and her kids are super picky, so I added the anchovies surreptitiously while nobody was watching. They were none the wiser, and everyone loved this. Thanks!


Truly no matter if someone doesn’t understand afterward its up to other users that they will assist, so here it occurs.


It so happens that anchovies are a similarly great addition to vinaigrette-style potato salad (that is, not the mayo kind). Shhh! I, too, dispense that information on a need-to-know basis.