Anchovy sauce is an extremely versatile condiment with a long history in many different parts of the world and styles of cooking. Modern cooks prepare several different varieties of anchovy sauce, often with a Mediterranean blend of spices and tend to use these sauces on dishes associated with that region. Fish sauce, common in East Asian cooking, is usually made from anchovies. Worcestershire sauce is a cousin of fish sauce and is commonly used in western cooking.
The Roman Empire consumed great quantities of anchovy sauce. This sauce, generally known as garum, was produced by allowing fish to ferment. The production of garum was notorious for the stench that it created, but the finished sauce was very versatile. Romans used it to add flavor to almost any dish, but it was especially prized for its ability to add depth and richness of flavor to otherwise bland foods. Modern versions are still available and often used in Italian-style cooking, frequently serving to add flavor to meats or pasta.
Worcestershire sauce is the very distant descendant of ancient Roman garum. It is widely used in small quantities in western cooking to add complexity of flavor. Meat benefits from the rich flavor of this sauce. Like soy sauce, this condiment causes food to taste richer and more satisfying, and it is commonly used in foods that are meant to have a rich, hearty flavor, such as stews and casseroles.
A slightly different version of fermented anchovy sauce is common in East Asian cuisine. Fish sauce is extraordinarily common in food in Thailand, China, and Vietnam. It has a somewhat more complicated flavor profile than soy sauce, but brings a similar salty richness to food. It is routinely added to stir-fry dishes and soups and is even a component of recipes for producing Korean kimchi. This flavoring has become more popular in western food as well and is used in fusion dishes.
Fresh anchovy sauce is not quite as versatile as the fermented varieties but still has a wide range of culinary applications. Such sauces typically combine anchovies with olive oil, peppers, and tomatoes, along with other ingredients common to a Mediterranean diet. Sauces made with tomatoes work very well with pasta, and provide additional flavor for meat courses as well.
Sauces made with fewer additional ingredients retain more of the original flavor of the anchovies on which they are based. These sauces may be used to add flavor to salads. They can also be added to other dishes to modify flavor.