Packed with umami flavor and good enough to eat from the bowl like potato chips, Cantabrian anchovies are the king of tiny fish and one of Daisy Ryan's favorite ingredients.

By Margaret Eby
May 22, 2020
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Anchovies were the villain of every pizza-related joke in the ‘90s, but in the past few years, there’s been a renewal of appreciation for these tiny fish that pack a big flavor punch. Just ask Daisy Ryan, co-owner and chef of Bell’s in Los Alamos, California, and one of the Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2020. She’s a big fan of anchovies, but of a particular kind: Cantabrian anchovies. 

Unlike the typical anchovies you’d find in an American grocery aisle, Cantabrian anchovies are a rarer kind of delicacy. “Well first, they come from San Sebastian’s Bay of Biscay, where fish canning by hand has been done the same way for centuries,” Ryan explained in an email. “Anchovies have a very short season from March to through June. They are wild and caught with sustainable fishing techniques. They are then hand packed in brine and olive oil for 5 months. They have a meatiness and an umami flavor that is unparalleled.”

Aubrie Pick / Donostia Foods

Normally, anchovies can have a tinny, metallic flavor. These don’t have that, thanks to the tinning methodology. Ryan purchases them through a specialty food purveyor, but you can also find Cantabrian anchovies online through San Sebastian processors. 

Once you get your hands on those beauties, what should you do with them? Ryan suggests starting off by adding them to sauces and vinaigrettes if you’re intimidated. Try Cantabrian anchovies in a classic Caesar dressing and taste how they make it pop. “Just lay a few over a nice piece of sourdough, and make sure you spoon the oil that they sit in over the bread so it soaks it up and just feast away,” Ryan said.  

But really, they’re delicious and high quality enough that Ryan eats them straight. “I try really hard to put them on as many things as possible and often find myself just eating a few out of a bowl solo whenever I need a snack,” Ryan said. “I would say my absolute favorite application is in sauces to accompany beef.”

If you’re already a fan of anchovies, Cantabrian anchovies are worth seeking out to experience them at their peak. And if you’re not, maybe snag a jar anyway—they just might convert you.