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Anchovies From A to Z: 26 Things About Anchovies

Anchovies From A to Z: 26 Things About Anchovies

From Jamaica to Turin, from Spanish tapas to zooplancton, all about anchovies: here are 26 facts and figures about one of the world's most popular fishes

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This little fish is quite common in temperate waters and can be found in the Atlantic from Norway to South Africa, as well as in the Mediterranean sea. It has even migrated as far as the Red Sea, in the opposite direction from most other species.

One of the most popular Spanish tapas are boquerones: uncooked anchovy fillets marinated in salt and vinegar and seasoned with parsley and garlic.

Yet another Mediterranean speciality, anchovies and caper berries make a great combination as a nibbler to serve before a meal, possibly marinated in oil.

Domoic acid
The suicidal death of seagulls which inspired Hitchcock’s The Birds was caused by a toxin called domoic acid; it accumulates in anchovies and is ingested by seagulls: in fact, it can be highly poisonous in large quantities.

How do you choose the freshest anchovies at the fishmonger’s? Look carefully at their eyes which should be bright and protruding, with an iris that is black and not reddened.

The anchovy fishing period goes from March to September. The best bait to lure them to the surface is crab paste.

The favourite sauce of ancient Romans, made from anchovy entrails, which they used as a seasoning, an aphrodisiac and a cure for ulcer and dysentery.

It is considered to be one of the most frugal fish in the world, because of its size, the ease with which it is fished and its low price compared with other species.

In Turkey, the Black Sea anchovy is called hamsi and is the queen of simple recipes (it is served on toast, with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil) or in more substantial dishes such as rice pilaf with fillets of this same fish and pine nuts.

There is also a little town going under this name: it is in Jamaica to the north of Montego Bay but, contrary to what you might think, Anchovy is not renowned for its dishes containing this fish.

It is very common in South India where it is called kozhuva; it is fried or cooked in delicious and rather liquid coconut curries served with rice and typical Indian bread.

In Latin languages, such as Italian, the equivalent word for "anchovy" is used to describe a particularly thin person who is all skin and bones.

It is on nights with a full moon that fishermen prefer to go after anchovies: with their silvery body they shine in the water under the moonlight

The favourite food of sailors and navigators: in fact, a salted anchovy helps cure sea sickness and provides the necessary proteins to face the day with plenty of energy.

Oily fish
The anchovy, together with its colleague the sardine and other varieties like mackerel belong to the group of oily fish that are rich in vitamins A and D, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids.

Anchovy paste, fillets minced with vinegar and a pinch of sugar, comes in a tube and provides an excellent basic ingredient for sauces such as the famous protagonist of “spaghetti alla puttanesca” which owes its name to the dish prostitutes used to delight their customers with in the 19th century.

Queen olives
The famous Spanish olives, often stoned and filled with chilli pepper, are wrapped with an anchovy in oil to make a tasty accompaniment to an aperitif.

Recipe from a chef
In Sicily, the Michelin chef Pino Cuttaia, from La Madia restaurant, is the king of anchovy recipes. Not to be missed is his pesto of anchovies marinated in sea water and bottarga mayonnaise.

The sardine, a typical little Mediterranean fish (its name in fact comes from Sardinia) looks like an anchovy and is often taken for one: it has the same colour, similar flesh and the same properties but in actual fact it belongs to the herring family and has a rounder belly.

Turin and Piedmont area
The speciality of this Italian region is 'bagna cauda', a warm sauce made from garlic, oil and anchovies, for dipping cooked and raw vegetables in.

Anchovies are naturally one of the foodstuffs most richly endowed with the so-called fifth taste, umami, which enhances the flavour of the other ingredients in certain recipes.

The Vietnamese Island of Phu Quoc has protected the name and recipe of its most famous fish sauce with a copyright; made from the anchovies fished in local seas, it is said to be one of the best in the world and takes a whole year to prepare.

Whitebait are a gourmet delight: these are the immature fry of anchovy and other oily fish, caught in Italy in the month of March before this fish develops and grows. Whitebait fishing is strictly regulated by the Law.

Xtra anchovy
In Loverboy, a film of the eighties, the magic word for obtaining the sexual favours of the protagonist, a very, very sexy pizza delivery boy, was to order “pizza with extra anchovies”

From Yellowtail tuna to Californian halibut, as well as sharks and salmon: anchovies are the best source of food for all predatory fish, as well as for seagulls, pelicans and other sea birds.

In the food chain, anchovies feed off smaller fish, and so plankton is exactly what they eat.

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