Anchovies may be one of the most polarizing foods on grocery store shelves. Popular wisdom goes “You either love ‘em or hate ‘em”; we are of a different opinion: you either love them, or just have not tried quality anchovies yet.
While we are partial to a few fillets of anchovies on toasted bread topped with a shmear of butter, we use them more often in marinades, stews, and dressings. Mashed down with some salt, they melt in olive oil or any cooking liquid to infuse it with a deeply savory flavor. Savvy home cooks aren’t the only one in on the secret: Worcestershire sauce is packed with anchovies.
Before we jump into some easy recipes featuring our award-winning Merro Anchovies, let’s dive into the shallow waters of anchovy fishing and processing.
The mighty anchovy
Anchovies are small silver fish traditionally found in the Mediterranean as well as the Atlantic. On average, an adult will reach 5 to 6 inches although they are often caught a little before. Their long bodies feature very prominent eyes and an oversize mouth – hence their Spanish name, boquerone (from boca, “mouth”).
The fish travel in tight schools and feed on plankton. At night, they rise to shallow waters, especially during a bright moon. This attraction to light inspired fishermen to develop a technique called “Lamparo”, for which a light is suspended to the prow of the fishing boat, luring the fish within a purse net.
Anchovies have been popular for millenia and were sought out as precious commodities due to the heavy reliance on salt, essential to their curing. The Romans were particularly enamored with the small fish, making it an essential ingredient to their favorite condiment – Garum (a type of umami-packed fish sauce, similar to colatura). During the middle ages, specific coastal towns of Spain and France became experts at catching and packing anchovies, and remain famous for them to this day.
How “Anchovies” are made
Anchovies are one of the oiliest fish you will find. For that reason, processing them as quickly as possible is of paramount importance. If the fish is let to sit too long, the oil in its flesh will start to oxidize and quickly spoil the fish.
Our anchovy supplier has been in business for over 50 years – we chose to work with them for their relentless commitment to quality. This means all their anchovies are processed by hand within 24 hours of being caught.
Once the fresh anchovies are delivered, a small army of expert employees get to work. The fish are lightly sprinkled with salt, beheaded, and gutted in a couple of swift movements. They are then layered in large drums along with sea salt. The layers of fish are pressed down every now and then, and the fish left to cure for three to 12 months. During this time, the salt draws out the fish’ moisture and preserves it. Unlike cheese or wine, a shorter curing time is often preferable, resulting in a plumper fillet.
Once the anchovies are fully cured, they return to a processing room. They go through several baths of water and brine to wash off excessive salt before being placed in a centrifuge, where they will be rapidly dry. The hand of man (or rather women) then intervenes once again. Each anchovy is filleted: the spine and small fish bones are removed, along with any remaining silver skin.
The fillets are then packed, by hand, in the glass jars or tins you see on your shelves, and filled with olive oil.
Anchovies Culinary Uses
Anchovies are packed with amino acid glutamates – the same component that’s responsible for the deeply savory flavor of a ripe tomato or a piece of aged Parmigiano. And yes, the very same glutamates that are artificially reconstructed in MSG!
While anchovies have a strong, pungent and salty flavor on their own (that shines in our Spanish-inspired toast below), they can also act as a nearly undetectable flavor enhancer in many preparations. Check out a few of our favorite recipes below.
5 Oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 Clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp Kosher salt
1 Large egg yolk
1 ½ Tbsp Lemon juice
¾ tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ C. + 2 Tbsp E.V.O.O.
3 Tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
1) Mash anchovies, garlic, and salt on prep area using a chef’s knife or use a mortar & pestle to form a fine paste.
2) Whisk egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard together in a medium size bowl.
3) Start whisking mixture and gradually pour in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The mixture should develop the texture of mayonnaise. Once you’ve reached that consistency, thin out the mixture with a splash of water until it moves like heavy cream. Add anchovy mixture and Parmigiano Reggiano and whisk until smooth.
4) Taste & season with salt and pepper if needed.
5) Enjoy on a bed of Romaine hearts or drizzled over grilled chicken!
Kitchen Tip- Place kitchen rag/towel under bowl while whisking to prevent the bowl from sliding away from you.
¼ C. E.V.O.O.
3 Cloves garlic
½ Large, sweet onion, chopped.
6-8 Merro Anchovy fillets
1 Calabrese Chili Pepper, chopped thinly (or less depending on desired heat level)
1 ½ Tbsp. Tomato paste
28 oz. Can of Vantia gold select tomato w/ juices
2 Sprigs of basil (kept on stem for easy extraction)
¼ C. Kalamata olives, chopped
1 Tbsp. Capers, drained
S &P. To taste
1) In a large sauce pot, heat oil on medium heat. Add garlic, anchovies, onion, and Calabrese Chili Pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until golden and aromatic (about 5 minutes).
2) Add tomato paste and cook down, stirring for about 1 minute (be careful not to burn paste).
3) Add canned tomatoes with juices, breaking the tomatoes apart with your hands or a wooden spoon. Stir in basil, olives, and capers. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
4) Once at a boil, bring down to a simmer over low heat, continuing to stir to avoid scorching. Allow the sauce to cook down and to thicken, about 30 minutes.
5) Pull out basil and garlic cloves and enjoy over some tagliatelle or fried eggplant dishes.
Anchovy & Sundried Pepper Bruschetta
2 C. Vantia Sundried Peppers, strips
1 shallot minced
1tsp lemon juice
1.5 tsp honey
1 Garlic clove
6-8 Merro Anchovy fillets
1 Organic Lemon, zested
1-2 oz. Balsamic Glaze OR Aged Balsamic Vinegar
2 oz. E.V.O.O.
1 Loaf Italian bread
Chives, for garnish
Preheat oven/ broiler. Toast bread until golden, then lightly brush with E.V.O.O. Rub the toasts on 1 side with the garlic clove.
2) In a smaller bowl toss the anchovy fillets, sundried peppers, lemon zest together.
3) Spoon the topping on the toasts. Garnish with a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oil and Balsamic glaze.
** For a gluten free approach try serving inside a leaf of romaine lettuce.