Issue No. 87: Buyer’s Guide to Anchovies

It’s a cliché to say that anchovies get a bad rap. Everyone knows they’re polarizing—and most people avoid the pole altogether. The thing is, it’s not anchovies’ fault. It’s ours. Just-caught anchovies are universally delicious. It’s mis-steps taken to cure, prepare, store and serve that cause such ruin.

How to cure anchovies.

For months, in sea salt. The Maestro Salador oversees anchovy curing, cracking the salt barrels every week or two to check on the color, the smell and the texture of the fish inside. Sometimes salt is taken out and more is added. Sometimes a weight is placed on top to press out more liquid. It’s a craft like those I’ve seen at other traditional food makers, like aging cheese or smoking bacon, and like those crafts, at the best places, it’s usually plied by very serious people who’ve been doing the work for decades. When it’s done cheaply it’s rushed and the variations of seasonality and nature aren’t taken into account—and the fish suffers.

How to prepare anchovies.

With knives, not scissors. Filleted anchovies, the type we offer, get their their bones removed at the factory. When that’s done with paring knives like at Ortiz and Rizzoli, our long-time anchovy suppliers, every pin bone is exhumed. When scissors are involved the bones are cut near the surface but part remains in the fish and the texture suffers. All of this is done by hand and it’s three times slower to use knives instead of scissors, so the price is higher accordingly.

How to store anchovies.

In a refrigerator. Unlike tuna and sardines, both of which improve when stored in a tin at room temperature, anchovies get worse—mushier, saltier, less sweet. Refrigerating them slows this process. Almost all retailers and customers keep their anchovies on a room temperature shelf but they shouldn’t. It’s not a big deal to have them out of refrigeration for a few days or more, but in the long term, anchovies will be much better chilled. We store them in refrigeration at Zingerman’s and you should slip them in the fridge at home, too. After you open a jar or tin, top them up with oil so they’re always covered.

How to serve anchovies.

At room temperature. Take them out of your fridge fifteen minutes before you want to use them. Lay big, beautiful fillets like La Gran Anchoa on a plate and top with a bit of olive oil and maybe a twist of lemon. Slip some everyday fillets like Rizzoli onto an egg salad sandwich. Or, yes, put them on a pizza. Don’t throw the oil out! Make a salad dressing with it or use it to sauté onions for your next dish.