Anchovies are small, saltwater fish that is often used in cooking and as a condiment. Although they may not be as well-known as some other types of seafood, anchovies are a flavorful and nutritious addition to many dishes. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at what anchovies are, their history, and how they are used in cooking.
You may have heard of anchovies as a controversial topping for pizza, but these small fish have much more to offer than just a salty, umami flavor. Whether you’re a fan of anchovies or are just curious about these little fish, read on to learn more about these tasty and nutritious ingredients.
What are Anchovies?
Anchovies are small, silvery fish that are native to the Mediterranean and the eastern coast of North America. They are a member of the Engraulidae family and are closely related to herring and sardines. Anchovies are typically about 7.5 cm (3 inches) long, although some species can grow to be slightly larger.
Anchovies are typically found in schools and can be caught using various methods, including purse seining and netting. They are often sold fresh, but they are more commonly available in preserved form, such as canned in oil, jarred as a paste, or packed in salt. Anchovies are also popularly used as a stuffing for olives.
History of anchovies
Anchovies have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. They were an important source of food in ancient Rome, and they continue to be widely consumed in the Mediterranean and coastal regions around the world. In Italy, anchovies are often used to add flavor and umami to dishes, and they are a key ingredient in many classic Italian sauces, such as puttanesca and vinaigrette.
Anchovies were also popular in medieval Europe and were often used as a condiment or to add flavor to dishes. They were often salted and preserved in barrels, which allowed them to be stored and transported easily. Today, anchovies are still widely consumed and are available in many parts of the world.
What do anchovies look like?
Anchovies are small and silver in color, with a thin, slender body and a large mouth. They have flattened head on the sides and wide mouth that extends far behind the eyes. The back of the anchovy is dark in color, with streaks that may appear almost black. Anchovies are typically about 7.5 cm (3 inches) long, although some species can grow up to 15 cm (6 inches).
Anchovies can be sold whole or in fillet form. Whole anchovies are usually sold fresh at fish markets or can be found frozen in some grocery stores. They are often used in Mediterranean cuisine, where they are typically grilled or fried and served as a tapa or appetizer.
Anchovy fillets are also widely available, and these are often packed in oil, vinegar, or brine and sold in cans or jars. Anchovy fillets are a common ingredient in many dishes, including pizzas, salads, and pasta sauces. They are known for their strong, salty flavor, which adds depth and umami to a wide range of dishes. Anchovy fillets are usually sold in small cans or jars and can be found in the international or specialty section of most grocery stores.
What do anchovies taste like?
Anchovies have a distinct, salty flavor that is often described as “briny” or “umami.” They are also quite savory, with a rich, full-bodied taste that some people love and others find too strong. Anchovies are generally quite salty, due to the way they are preserved. They can be purchased fresh, but are more commonly found packed in salt, tinned in oil, or made into a paste or sauce.
Types of anchovies
Anchovies are small, silver fish that belong to the anchovy family. There are several different types of anchovies, including:
- Peruvian anchovy
- European anchovy
- Japanese anchovy
- Cape anchovy
- California anchovy
- Argentinean anchovy
- Silver anchovy
- Australian anchovy
While all anchovies belong to the same family, each type has its own unique characteristics and flavor profile. For example, the Peruvian anchovy is known for its delicate, mild flavor and is often used in ceviche and other light dishes. The European anchovy, on the other hand, is slightly stronger in flavor and is often used in more robust dishes such as pasta sauces and pizzas.
Uses of anchovies in cooking
Anchovies are a versatile ingredient that can add depth and umami flavor to a wide range of dishes. They are often used in small amounts as a condiment or seasoning, as their strong flavor can be overpowering if used in large quantities.
Overall, anchovies are a flavorful and versatile ingredient that can add depth and richness to a wide range of dishes. Just be sure to use them sparingly, as their strong flavor can be overpowering if used in excess.
Here are some tips for cooking with anchovies:
- Anchovies can be found in various forms, including canned in oil, salt-cured, or packed in jars or tubes as a paste. Choose the form that best fits your recipe and personal preference.
- If using salt-cured anchovies, they will need to be soaked in water or milk to remove excess salt before use.
- Anchovies are often used in small amounts as a flavor booster in sauces, marinades, and dressings. They can be mashed into a paste and added to dishes like Caesar salad dressing or added to a pan with garlic and olive oil to make a flavorful base for pasta or vegetables.
- They also pair well with bold flavors like capers, olives, and garlic. They can be used to add depth to dishes like puttanesca sauce or added to a pizza topped with olives and capers.
- If you are not a fan of the strong flavor of anchovies, try using them in small amounts and balance them out with other bold flavors.
How are anchovies prepared?
Anchovies are typically sold in salt, tinned in oil, as a paste in jars or tubes, or as a sauce. They can also be used as a stuffing for olives.
After harvesting, fresh anchovies, are first gutted and then headed. The whole anchovy (not just the fillet) is then cooked in water and stored by hand in a tin with organic extra virgin olive oil. This process results in a firm and melting flesh that can be used in a variety of dishes.
After buying from the store, canned anchovies are already prepared and ready to use, so there is no need for additional preparation. However, you may want to rinse them with water or soak them in milk for a few minutes to remove some of the saltiness before using them in a recipe. This can help to reduce the overall saltiness of the dish.
Here is a simple guide on how to prepare canned anchovies:
- Open the can of anchovies: Use a can opener to open the can, and then drain the anchovies in a colander or sieve.
- Rinse the anchovies: If you find the anchovies too salty, you can rinse them under cold water to remove some of the excess salt.
- Pat the anchovies dry: Use a paper towel or clean dish towel to pat the anchovies dry.
- Chop the anchovies: If you are using the anchovies as a garnish or in a recipe that calls for them to be finely chopped, you can chop them using a sharp knife. Alternatively, you can leave the anchovies whole or halve them if you prefer.
Once prepared, you can use the anchovies in a variety of dishes such as Caesar salad, pasta dishes, or pizzas. You can also add them to sauces or dips for an extra burst of flavor.
If you have leftover anchovies, you can store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week. Alternatively, you can freeze the anchovies in an airtight container or bag for up to three months.
What are some common dishes that include anchovies?
Anchovies are a common ingredient in many dishes. Here are some common ways to use them in your cooking:
- Caesar salad dressing: Anchovies are a key ingredient in classic Caesar salad dressing, providing a briny, umami flavor that complements the creamy dressing and crisp lettuce.
- Pizza: These little fish are a popular but controversial topping on pizza, either whole or in the form of anchovy paste. They add a salty, savory flavor that pairs well with tomato sauce and cheese.
- Pasta sauces: Anchovies can be used to add depth and richness to pasta sauces, such as puttanesca or carbonara. They can be mashed into a paste and mixed into the sauce, or added whole and allowed to dissolve as the sauce simmers.
- Tapenade: They are also a key ingredient in tapenade, a spread made from puréed olives, anchovies, and capers. It can be served as a condiment or used to add flavor to sandwiches and other dishes.
- Fish stew: Anchovies are often used to add flavor to fish stews, such as bouillabaisse or cioppino. They can be used whole or in the form of anchovy paste, and add a depth of flavor that complements the seafood.
Are there any health benefits to eating anchovies?
Anchovies are a rich source of protein and are considered part of a healthy and balanced diet. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the normal functioning of the heart, brain, and vision. Canned anchovies are also a good source of vitamin D and contain a variety of minerals and trace elements, such as calcium and phosphorus.
How to store anchovies
To store anchovies, it is best to keep them in their original can or in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you have an opened can of anchovies, you can transfer them to a glass jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure to keep the anchovies submerged in their oil or the oil from the can to help preserve them.
You can also freeze anchovies by transferring them to a plastic bag or container and storing them in the freezer for up to 6 months. When you are ready to use them, thaw them in the refrigerator or under cold running water. It is important to store anchovies properly to prevent them from going bad or drying out.
In conclusion, anchovies are a small but mighty fish with a rich history and a distinct flavor. They can be found in various forms, such as fresh, salt-cured, canned, or as a paste or sauce, and can be used in a variety of dishes to add depth of flavor and nutrition.
While anchovies may not be for everyone, they are worth giving a try, especially if you are able to find high-quality products. Proper storage, whether in the fridge or pantry, can help to ensure that your anchovies remain fresh and flavorful for as long as possible.
Whether you are a seasoned anchovy fan or new to this tasty fish, there are many ways to incorporate anchovies into your cooking and add a unique twist to your favorite recipes.