My brother-in-law Sean was in Rome, near the Canadian embassy where he was on official business. He stopped into an enoteca (like a fancy Italian deli), where he came across some small bottles of what he thought to be fine balsamic. “But then a very sophisticated Englishman came up to me," says Sean, "and explained that when roasting pork or chicken he adds a few drops of colatura to enrich the meat.” Apparently, this amber-hued liquid has been around since the time of Nero, and you’ll never taste anything quite like it. (Not cheap, this 100ml bottle cost Sean around $20.)
Before I cracked open the bottle I did some research. Turns out Colatura di Alici is an ancient convenience food (thought by most to be what ancient Romans called garum) that adds great anchovy flavour to a dish without having to fillet, rinse and chop the fish. It's the essence of anchovy. (Think of it as Thai fish sauce in killer stilettos with an Italian swagger, maybe even smoking a cigar.)
The colatura Sean bought me comes from a little fishing village called Cetara on the Amalfi Coast. When the fish are caught during summer, the Cetaresi throw them into wooden barrels, alternating layers with handfuls of salt, then pressing the layers down with a lid weighted with rocks. By December, the anchovies have produced a clear fragrant amber juice – anchovy sauce, and a hole is poked in the bottom of the barrel to drain the colatura.
The most common use is make a "salsetta" by mixing a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with a clove or two of crushed garlic and a teaspoon of colatura. Toss this easy instant sauce with spaghetti, swiss chard, mushrooms, rapini or plain old potatoes.