• Anchovies are small saltwater fish about 3-4 inches long with silvery skin and finely grained, off-white or grayish flesh. They have a soft, smooth texture and a rich, lightly oily flavour.
• In addition to being fished for consumption, anchovies are widely used as live bait for tuna and gamefish.
• Anchovies are extremely low in fat, high in protein, and contain no carbohydrates.
• Anchovies are an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, reduce the risk of heart disease, and decrease triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
• Because anchovies are a small fish with a short life span, they’re less likely to accumulate significant levels of mercury and toxins like PCBs and dioxanes.
• There are about six distinct species of anchovies worldwide. The most common two are the European anchovy and the Northern anchovy.
o The European anchovy is found in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the warmer waters of the eastern Atlantic where they are fished all year.
o The Northern anchovy inhabits the waters around Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands south to the Gulf of California. In these areas, northern anchovies are found in bays and estuaries in the spring, summer, and fall.
What to Look For
• Their high fat content makes anchovies very fragile. If you are able to purchase them fresh, make sure they are silvery in colour, not blue or dark in appearance.
• If buying fresh, look for the most unblemished anchovies possible but don’t worry if they appear slightly worse for wear – their flesh is very soft and bruises easily.
• As with any fresh fish, fresh anchovies shouldn’t smell overly fishy, and should have bright, clear eyes.
• One pound of fresh anchovies equates to approximately 10 fish.
• Preserved anchovies come both whole and filleted in 1½ or 2 ounce jars and cans and are most commonly packed in either salt or olive oil.
• Jarred or canned anchovies begin to lose quality as soon as you open the container, so only purchase as many as you need at one time.
• For a less intense salt flavour, look for anchovies that are packed in oil or another liquid, rather than in salt.
What’s Out There
• Buying fresh anchovies in North America is a difficult task since their size and very high fat content makes them an extremely perishable fish that do not travel well.
• When you do find them fresh, like other seafoods, anchovies typically arrive at the fishmonger having been flash-frozen at sea.
• Otherwise, anchovies are usually packed in jars or tins and covered in salt, olive oil, or other liquids like vinegar or sunflower oil.
• Anchovies are also ground into a paste and sold in tubes.
• We went to New York City’s pre-eminent Italian eatery “Eataly” for a lesson in anchovy preparation by sous-chef, Christian Goerner. Who knew such a little fish could pack such a punch of flavour!
• Look for fresh anchovies at your fishmonger or local Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese markets.
• Preserved anchovies come both whole and filleted in 1½ or 2 ounce cans and jars. Look for them in supermarkets and European grocery stores.
After You Buy
• Being an extremely fatty fish, fresh anchovies are highly perishable and should be cooked within a day of purchase. Until preparing, keep them on a bed of ice in the coldest part of your refrigerator.
• Preserved anchovies will still be too salty to eat directly out of the can or jar, so rinse them under cold running water or soak them in cold water or milk for at least 30 minutes before using.
• Once you’ve opened a container of salted or oil-packed anchovies, you have around 4-5 days to consume them.
• Remove any you don’t use, transfer them to a jar filled with olive oil, and refrigerate them for a few more days.
• Never keep anchovies in the can as this will give them a metallic taste once the can is opened and the fish are exposed to air.
• Canned or jarred anchovies should be kept unopened in a cool, dry place up to a year or until the best before date.