Umami-rich, potently fishy and heavy on the sodium, anchovies aren’t for everybody. Us? We can eat them fresh from the jar with little more than a slice of baguette to serve as a flavour buffer. But if you’re more of a mild user and prefer them dissolved and obscured in sauce, chances are you’ll only use one of two fillets at a time. So if you’ve used a few anchovies to add savoury depth to a meal, how should you use up the rest of your stock?
Buying and storing anchovies
Fresh anchovies are fairly mild in taste, but seldom found in fishmongers or elsewhere. Instead, they’re commonly treated in two ways:
Salt-packed anchovies are usually left with their fins and bones intact, meaning they’ll need filleting. They’re tightly stuffed into jars with lots of salt, so its wise to give them a soak in milk or water before cooking. A salt-packed anchovy has a firm and meaty texture.
Anchovies in oil have been pre-filleted so can be eaten as they are. They’re salt-cured for six to nine months, before being plunged into oil. If you can stretch to it, it’s worth splashing out for cured anchovies in really good olive oil, as the quality varies wildly by price – going for a Mediterranean or Moroccan brand is a safe bet.
Whichever your anchovy choice, check the Marine Stewardship Council site for sustainability credentials – some anchovy stocks are more depleted than others, so check that the origin is an MSC-approved fishery.
How to store surplus anchovies
Once opened, jarred anchovies can be stored under a firmly sealed lid in the fridge. With tinned anchovies, discard the can and transfer them to a dish or pot. They then need to be totally submerged in oil so they don’t spoil, so top up the container if needs be, or with salt-packed anchovies, pile in more salt. Once refrigerated, the oil will coagulate but don’t be put off – take them out of the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature before using – this will render the oil to its looser state. So long as the anchovies are topped with plenty of salt or oil, they can be stored in the fridge for several months.
If preferred, you can freeze anchovies – lay them out individually on a baking parchment-lined tray and open freeze them. Once frozen, tip them into a freezer bag and return to the freezer.
Our favourite ways with leftover anchovies
We’re big fans of salsa verde, an Italian condiment made from anchovies, capers, herbs and olive oil. Use it as you would pesto, or other green sauces like gribiche or pistou – dolloped onto soup, with fish and roasted meat, to dress salads or spooned onto bread.
Try our… Radish confetti with salsa verde
Swedish potato bake
A take on the traditional Scandinavian dish of ‘Jansson’s frestelse’, this hearty potato bake is similar to dauphinoise, but with anchovy fillets dissolved into the creamy sauce. This recipe requires a whole can, but it can be adapted to suit the number of leftover fillets you have available.
Try our… Swedish temptation
The pliable nature of anchovies mean they can be ground in a pestle and mortar into a paste with relative ease. Beat with butter and the herbs of your choice and you have yourself an on-trend whipped butter with a heady salty hit. Spread onto toast and serve for dipping in soup or stew, or cut your bread into soldiers and serve with boiled eggs for brunch.
Try our… Braised beef with anchovy toasts
A common gripe with anchovies is that they don’t taste of anything other than salt. We beg to differ, but if this is your stance we recommend you use them as just that – a seasoning. Their low melting point means they can be heated in a pan with garlic until they break down into a soft emulsion. Toss this magic mix through warm vegetables – we think it works particularly well with greens.
Apply this same principle to cooking meat – lamb has a particular affinity with anchovies, especially when flavoured with other Mediterranean-style delights such as rosemary, lemon, garlic and wine. Either add your fillets to a marinade or rub, or stud pieces directly into a slashed roasting joint.
Contrary to popular belief and the menus of Anglicised bistros, salad nicoise doesn’t traditionally contain tuna – in France, less expensive anchovies were more likely to have been used when the dish was conceived. Similarly, a true Caesar salad is unlikely to contain chicken or bacon. But as they’re both rustic dishes open to interpretation, we’re happy to see them evolve – as long as they both contain anchovies…
What’s your take on the mighty anchovy? Do you eat them in their full form, or do you prefer them concealed? If the jury is out, one of our anchovy recipes might persuade you otherwise…