What exactly are anchovies?
Anchovies are forage fish - that is they’re preyed on by fish further up the food chain. They’re oily fish - like sardines and mackerel - and there are a whopping 144 species. Cantabrian anchovies are said to be the best anchovies and are fished in the Bay of Biscay in a brief window between March and June when they’re at their peak. Olasagasti, Yurrita and Zallo are artisanal canneries based nearby in the Basque Country. Theirs are anchovies canned by hand; the curing process begins the day the fish are landed and the canneries buy the best lots from the morning auctions. The longer, meatier fillets from the best Spanish anchovies go into premium anchovy tins like Olasagasti’s superior selection, Ramon Pena’s limited series, Yurrita’s butterfly-prepared ones in Arbequina olive oil. Zallo’s premium selection and then, blowing things out of the water as it were, Zallo’s 00 anchovy showstoppers.
What do anchovies taste like?
Anchovies have an umami or savoury taste. A powerful one. So you don’t need to add many fillets from your anchovy tin to dishes and sauces in order to enhance flavours. They’re found in Worcestershire Sauce, alongside olives and capers in Provencal sauce tapenade and, of course, the anchovy paste Gentleman’s Relish or Patum Peperium. The salty taste we associate with anchovies is thanks to the curing process. Yurrita cures its Cantabrian anchovies for 20 months, and these are probably the saltiest that we stock and the ones chefs might reach for. Zallo anchovies - we think - are the mildest salt-wise (though finishing their 100-fillet tin in one sitting might be a stretch) and the larger Olasagasti anchovies fall somewhere in between.
Why are anchovies so salty?
They shed flavour and spoil fast so they are cured in salt. They are eaten fresh of course – close to where they’re caught. A traditional fresh anchovy recipe you can find in San Sebastian is battered fresh anchovy fillets sandwiched around a smoky-sweet piquillo pepper. Or try Olasagasti’s Anchovies a la Donostiarra - another San Sebastian recipe for fresh anchovies, this time with cayenne pepper, white wine vinegar and garlic. Anchovies are also called brown anchovies (white anchovies or boquerones are the acidic ones, cured in white wine vinegar). Anchovies are gutted, then placed in barrels and separated by layers of salt. They’re cured like this for between five and 20 months. Then they’re removed, the excess salt rinsed off with brine and they’re filleted and packed in cans with olive oil. Or Zallo, for instance, salt packs them prior to the filleting stage so you can channel centuries of canning tradition in your kitchen and fillet them yourselves.
Tinned anchovy recipes
Try making a gilda - an anchovy, piparra pepper and olive skewered on a cocktail stick - using Olasagasti’s anchovies in extra virgin olive oil. The fruity olive oil is a good foil for the crunchy tang of the piparra. Pair them with boiled and scrambled eggs for a bold flavour face off that works well. Or melt them into all manner of sauces to amp up flavours. Read Patrick’s recipe idea for straggler anchovies in the Guardian, Olasagasti’s anchovy and pink tomato recipe here and below are a taster of the recipes from visitors to Borough Market that you’ll find more of on our recipe page.
Anchovy spaghetti with rainbow chard
Coarsely chop the leaves of 300g of rainbow chard and reserve. Boil the stalks in salted water and reserve. Bring the water you boiled the chard stalks in back to the boil and add the spaghetti. Meanwhile, chop anchovies and fry in olive oil on a low heat, add four garlic cloves, minced (keep the heat low so that the garlic doesn’t catch), add chilli flakes to taste. Add the chopped chard leaves to the sauce - cook for about four minutes or until they’re soft - add the softened stalks at the end. Add the drained spaghetti to the mixture for the last three minutes. You can add pasta water to loosen the mix if you like.
Anchovies on flatbread with brown butter and chives
Melt some butter in a pan and let it brown so that it takes on a nutty flavour, drizzle over a flatbread, lay anchovies on top and garnish with chopped chives.
Lightly toast the inside faces of a brioche bun. Add two slices of Brie cheese, a few anchovies on top, a slice or two of tomato, cracked pepper to taste, and close the brioche.