A Guide to Cooking with Anchovies

What you should look for when buying anchovies and our favorite ways to cook with them.

Anchovy Toast with Fresh Tomato Vinaigrette
Photo: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

They're in Caesar dressing. They're in puttanesca sauce. They're probably hanging out in your cabinet or fridge right now. Yes, we're talking about anchovies — and just like tomato paste, and canned beans, and other pantry staples, they're a valuable ingredient to have on hand. Although anchovies are often written off as fishy, what a high-quality anchovy actually brings to the table is umami and saltiness. When you cook anchovies in oil or butter, they essentially melt into the fat, imbuing it with those flavors as they disintegrate. If you're new to cooking with this small, flavorful fish (or need a refresh), we've compiled a mini-guide here that outlines the basics, from buying anchovies to a handful of recipes we recommend trying, plus tips from Anna Theoktisto, recipe tester and developer at Dotdash Meredith Food Studios. Let's dive in:

What Are Anchovies?

Excellent question! Anchovies are saltwater fish in the Engraulidae family. As Stacey Ballis previously wrote for Food & Wine, they're different from sardines. Anchovies are smaller, stick to warmer water than sardines, and can be found in brackish water and freshwater in addition to saltwater. You can buy fresh anchovies, but for the purpose of this article, we're sticking to jarred and tinned whole anchovies and paste. They're delightfully pungent and add umami to any dish they touch.

What to Look for When Buying Anchovies

If you're in the market for jarred and tinned anchovies, you'll find them in a few different forms. There's oil-packed anchovies, salt-packed anchovies, water-packed anchovies, and anchovy paste — plus, boquerones, or marinated white anchovies, which are packed in a combination of oil and vinegar and have a more mild flavor. Flavorful oil-packed anchovy fillets, commonly found at the supermarket, can be plucked right out of the tin or jar they come in. With salt-packed anchovies, you'll need to rinse the fish off in water before using them so they're not too salty, and also fillet them, removing any bones (you can find a guide in this recipe). Water-packed anchovies are not as salty as their oil-packed and salt-packed cousins, Theoktisto says, and have a cleaner flavor. And finally, anchovy paste, which is made with ground anchovies, comes in a squeezable tube.

If you're looking for brand recommendations, we gathered a few chef picks earlier this year you can try out, including Agostino Recca Salted Whole Anchovies and Don Bocarte Cantabrian Anchovies in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Cured Anchovies, Pink Peppercorns, Oranges
Abby Hocking

Delicious Anchovy Recipes to Try

Now that you know the anchovy basics, let's get cooking. Theoktisto says salt-packed anchovies and oil-packed anchovies can be used interchangeably, but we've gathered a few recipes that call for one or the other so you have a place to get started. Use oil-packed anchovies to make these Anchovy Toasts with Fresh Tomato Vinaigrette, which are a perfect late summer treat, and this compound butter, which also features garlic, lemon, and smoked paprika for a simple but powerful condiment. As for salt-packed, try this Vietnamese Caesar Salad with Anchovy Croutons — they're used to make a homemade version of anchovy paste, which adds a punch to the dressing and homemade croutons for the salad. They also give a salty kick to the aioli in this recipe for Roman Fried Artichokes.

If you're working with boquerones, use 'em in this recipe for Spaghetti Puttanesca, which specifically calls for the white anchovy fillets in addition to oil-packed ones. For an elegant (and eye-catching!) appetizer, try this recipe for Cured Anchovies, Pink Peppercorns, Oranges, which really lets the little fish shine — all you need in addition to the ingredients in the title is a little bit of olive oil. And you can also use a duo of boquerones and oil-packed fillets to make this twist on Piedmontese bagna cauda.

Anchovy paste works particularly well in dressings, as well as sauces — basically, where you'd be cooking down anchovy fillets, Theoktisto says — and is great in a pinch, since it doesn't require any prep. It's also mixed into these Kimchi Pork Burgers for a little extra oomph, and used to give depth to this soup. As for water-packed anchovies? Theoktisto recommends eating them with accoutrements like crackers, cheese, and olives.

How Long Do Anchovies Last, and How Should You Store Them?

This goes without saying, but first: always pay attention to the expiration date on your package. Once you've opened your anchovies, they need to be stored in the fridge. Generally, anchovy paste can last for a while in the fridge (Theoktisto recommends up to six months), and salt-packed anchovies can keep in there for a few months, too. For oil-packed and water-packed anchovies, Theoktisto recommends keeping them no longer than one week in the fridge once opened.

If your anchovies came in a jar, you can continue to store them in there; however, if they come in a tin, make sure to transfer them to a resealable airtight container, along with their liquid or salt. If you want to extend the life of your anchovies a little bit, Theoktisto says you can also freeze them (again, in an airtight container) for up to three months.

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