Anchovies: It’s this simple. Life can be simple. Food can be simple.
You might not believe me, but one of the life’s simple pleasures is a plate of deep-fried anchovies. I served mine with crusty bread, cherry tomatoes, and a simple glass of wine. This is eating at its most elemental. First, there is bread and wine. I think they are classic elements, like earth, water, and air. But anchovies belong on that list too. Because there is no escaping the simple truth– when you eat anchovies, you are eating a fish. Man has been eating like this since biblical times. I am sure you know the story of fish, bread, and wine.
But today anchovies are grossly misunderstood. I think it is because in the last few generations we modern folk have gotten too far away from understanding what our food is and where it comes from. Sure we get it on an intellectual level. A fish is a creature that comes from the sea. But even those of us who love fish often won’t touch a fish that actually looks like a fish. No bones, no skin, no scales, no heads, no eyes. Certainly no eyes! So the idea of popping a whole fish in our mouths, bones and all, sends a little modern-day shiver down our spines.
Which to me means we are missing out on a chance to understand the foods we eat, no matter what their form. Often when someone is raving about that delicious Italian meal they just enjoyed, they can’t quite figure out what created that nuanced flavor. More often than not the mysterious ingredient was in fact anchovies. They might be little guys, but these fish pack a huge punch of flavor and often act as a backbone in many Italian recipes. Anchovies cannot be ignored for long if you desire authentic Italian flavor.
So the best way to get to understand anchovies and their magical culinary powers is to eat them at their most elemental. Simply dipped in egg, dredged in flour, and fried until golden. Pop one in your mouth whole and piping hot. You’ll be surprised by the mild flavor. Vaguely salty like the sea, but much more nuanced than the anonymous little fillets packed in salt, jarred in oil or sold as a paste in tubes. Don’t get me wrong. I believe these varieties have a place in our kitchens. These are the ingredients that add that indescribable extra layer of taste to many of the Italian dishes I mentioned earlier.
So when I found some fresh anchovies recently I jumped at the chance to get to know these little fishies at their simplest and most elemental. I marinated some anchovies yesterday. They were delicious. In Italy, marinated whole fresh anchovies are known as white anchovies, and are sometimes called “Sicilian sushi”. Ha! I like that…
You can use marinated anchovies for today’s fried anchovy recipe if you like. But when they are served deep fried in Italy as antipasti or as a tapas in Spain, it’s much more common to start with fresh, raw whole anchovies. Besides if you are lucky enough to find fresh anchovies you may as well enjoy them as simply and elementally as you can.
- 1 lb whole fresh, or cleaned and marinated anchovies (not the salted or tinned variety)
- 2 c olive oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1⁄2 c flour
- 1⁄4 t cayenne pepper
- salt and black pepper to taste
- cherry tomatoes, as needed
- crusty bread
- extra virgin olive oil, for dipping bread, optional
If you are using whole, fresh anchovies you must clean them first. Pull off the heads and pull out the insides. Then rinse with clean water.
Pour the olive oil into a small deep saucepan set over heat. Use a deep-fry thermometer to monitor the heat.
Meanwhile, add the eggs to a small bowl and beat until well mixed. Add the flour, cayenne, salt and black pepper to a shallow bowl, use a fork to mix the ingredients together. Dip the fish one at a time into the beaten eggs and then roll it in flour.
When the oil reaches 365 degrees F. fry the fish a few at a time, rolling them around in the oil to assure even cooking until they are golden brown (about 5–8 minutes). Serve with crusty bread, extra-virgin olive oil for dipping the bread (optional) and tomatoes.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD