Anchovies are related to herrings, so they belong to the family of oily fish. Oily fish are perfect for fermenting in brine, which tenderises the meat, and anchovy is no exception, but it is time-consuming. Tinning anchovy in salt and oil is a much quicker technique, but it won’t tenderise the fish – in fact it toughens it slightly. Tinned anchovy is not sterilised, because applied heat will only result in fish pulp. The quality of the products can differ, but at least a tin of anchovy is not expensive.
Buy a couple and see if you agree: tinned anchovy can surprise you. The preserving method limits the capabilities of the tinned anchovy in the kitchen. They are mostly used to add a kick of flavour to dishes. Soaking anchovy in milk, wine or water greatly enhances the culinary possibilities of the humble fish. You can also mellow the saltiness with some butter. Oil offers the adventurous cook the chance to add surprising touches as well, following in the footsteps of the ancient Romans who used the fish sauce garum to spice up their dishes. Fish sauce is still widely used in Asian cuisine. In Thai it’s called nam pla, in Vietnamese nuoc nam and in Chinese yu lu. All of them use anchovy as the main ingredient. South-European countries like Italy also make their own, very expensive fish sauce from anchovy: colatura.
True fish lovers
True fish lovers leave tinned fish like anchovy and sardines to mature in order to reach a more complex flavour. Turning the cans keeps the fish from drying out. To accommodate the fish lover, some French producers state the season the fish was caught. The area the anchovy was caught, the name of the boat and the name of the fisherman can also be available: useful information for the consumer who wants to know what they’re buying.
Only a few manufacturers (like Fish Tales) offer MSC-certified anchovy from Argentine waters. Others would rather not spend the money or, more often, don’t see a profit in fish with the blue eco-label. However, they will guarantee the anchovy is caught with ring nets, which eliminates most bycatch. That sounds good, but only the MSC eco-label gives the consumer traceable certainty regarding the fishing method.