One of the most uncommon, yet surprising, fish eaten around the world is the anchovy. Anchovies are tiny, silvery-green fishes full of flavor and nutrition. Forget all the jokes you’ve heard, these slimy little sea creatures aren’t just pizza toppers. Anchovies have a long and rich history, and have been a favourite food of many cultures around the world for centuries.
Anchovies belong to the family Engraulidae, of which there are more than 140 species. They are usually found in tropical and subtropical waters of the world, but can also inhabit the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. Most anchovy species measure between 3 and 5 inches in length, making them some of the tiniest fish out there. That tiny size is part of what makes them so delicious.
Their flavor is hard to define since every variety of anchovy tastes different, but it’s generally described as salty, fishy, and umami. Anchovy fillets tend to be very rich in flavor, making them an excellent condiment or topping for pizza, toast, and pasta dishes. Anchovies are also an excellent source of protein, calcium, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Mankind has been enjoying anchovies for centuries. Ancient Greeks ate them raw or cooked in stews and other dishes. The Romans also enjoyed anchovies and often used them in sauces. Anchovies have been popular in Spain since the 11th century and are a staple part of the Mediterranean diet thriving in the countries around the Mediterranean sea.
Anchovies can be eaten fresh, raw, or cooked, depending on the variety. For example, fresh anchovies are usually boiled, while canned anchovies are canned in oil and often used as a pizza topping or as a condiment. Boneless anchovy fillets are usually packed in brine or salted and cured with oil. Pressed anchovies are usually brined and air-dried for months at a time, resulting in a dark, richly flavored fish product.
When buying fresh anchovies, look for fish that are silver-green in color and in taut, firm bodies. Anchovies are best when freshly caught, so try to purchase from a trusted seafood purveyor. If buying larger fish, such as canned varieties, make sure that the cans are properly sealed and not corroded.
Anchovies are a delicious and nutritious food that can bring a unique, salty flavor to your dishes. But it is important to be mindful of their delicate flavour and texture. When cooking with anchovies, it is best to start with a smaller amount (such as a few minced anchovy fillets) as too much can make a dish overly salty or fishy tasting. However, when added in just the right amounts, anchovies can boost the flavor of any dish while adding an ample amount of essential nutrients.
All in all, anchovies remain a timeless and excellent flavorful option, especially when eating the traditional Mediterranean diet that has become so popular in recent years. Whether you enjoy them plain or as a topping, these little fish are sure to bring an impressive kick of nutritional value and umami flavor to your plate.