Silver, slender salty little fish found mainly around the Black Sea and the Pacific and Atlantic, as well as the Mediterranean, where the best are thought to come from. They're generally around 8-10cm long and, as their delicate flavour doesn't last long after they're caught, they are rarely exported fresh. Instead, they're filleted, salt-cured and packed in oil or salt (these are particularly flavourful) in tins or jars. Preserved that way, they take on an intense but sophisticated fish flavour and are a great store cupboard standby.
The tinned and jarred variety can be bought in most supermarkets and shops.
Choose the best
Look for anchovies that are packed in salt or oil. Olive oil is the best of the packing oils used.
If packed in salt, you can either shake off just a little of the excess for a strongly salty flavour or, for a more subtle taste, put the anchovies in a sieve and rinse all the salt away. Pat dry before using. Oil-packed anchovies can be used straight from the tin.
Tins or jars should be kept in a cool kitchen cupboard. Anchovies spoil very quickly once opened, so keep any leftovers submerged in oil in an airtight container in the fridge and consume them within two days.
Anchovies are a central ingredient in the classic British spread, Gentleman's Relish, but there's lots to do with them at home. Try them in salade niçoise, Caesar salad or tapanade (olive and anchovy paste); use as a pizza topping or in a putanesca sauce for pasta; mash up one or two with some butter and melt over grilled fish or lamb.