Anchovy Cooking 101: How to Cut, Clean, and Cook Like a Pro

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An anchovy is a small, common salt-water forage fish of the family Engraulidae. The 144 species are placed in 17 genera; they are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, and in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Anchovies are usually classified as oily fish.

Anchovies are a great way to add extra flavor to dishes. They’re a versatile ingredient that you can use in many different ways to make quick and delicious sauces.

The secret to cooking with anchovy is to use them sparingly to avoid overpowering the dish. You can use them to enhance the flavor of other ingredients. Add them to pasta, pizza, salads, and more.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to cook with anchovy and get the most out of this unique and flavorful ingredient.

How to cook with anchovies

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Get to Know Anchovies: The Secret Ingredient to Elevate Your Dishes

Anchovies are a great way to add extra flavour to your dishes. They are a versatile ingredient that can be used in many ways, such as:

  • Making a quick and delicious sauce by frying anchovy fillets with onion and garlic and incorporating them into a homemade salsa or tapenade.
  • Layering anchovy fillets on crostini with olives and pesto for a satisfying snack or appetizer.
  • Adding anchovy paste to pasta dishes, pizzas, and salads to accentuate the flavour of the other ingredients.
  • Using anchovy fillets to stuff lamb cutlets or skewers with coriander and cumin for a weekend barbecued supper.

How to Cook with Anchovies

Here are some tips for cooking with anchovies:

  • When using anchovy fillets, rinse them under cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel before using them in your dish.
  • To make an anchovy paste, blend anchovy fillets with olive oil, garlic, and a squeeze of lemon juice in a blender until smooth.
  • For a classic Caesar salad dressing, mix anchovy paste with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, garlic, and lemon juice.
  • Add anchovy fillets to fish dishes, such as niçoise salad or baked fish, to enhance the seafood flavour.
  • Dip vegetables or bread in a mixture of olive oil and anchovy paste for a delicious and savoury snack.

Why You’ll Love Anchovies

Anchovies may have a bad reputation, but they are a delicious and satisfying ingredient that can elevate any dish. Here are some reasons why you’ll love anchovies:

  • They are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health.
  • They add a savoury and umami flavour to dishes without overpowering the other ingredients.
  • They are a quick and easy way to add flavour to your meals.
  • They are a versatile ingredient that can be used in many different dishes, from pasta to pizza to salads.

So, next time you’re in the grocery store, don’t overlook the anchovies! They may just become your new favourite ingredient.

What’s the Flavor of Anchovies?

Anchovies are a type of small fish that have a strong, salty, and savory flavor. They are sold canned or fresh and are a primary ingredient in many dishes. The taste of anchovies can be fairly polarizing, with some people loving it and others finding it too overpowering.

The Difference Between Canned and Fresh Anchovies

Canned anchovies are typically classified into two groups: those sold in larger cans and those sold in smaller cans. The larger cans are often referred to as “pizza anchovies” because they are commonly used as a topping for pizzas. The smaller cans are typically used as a seasoning or a substitute for fish sauce.

Fresh anchovies are identifiable by their upper scales, which appear to be almost transparent. They are typically found in the Mediterranean Sea and are a popular ingredient in Spanish cuisine, where they are often paired with chorizo.

Health Benefits of Anchovies

Anchovies are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health. They are also high in protein and low in calories, making them a great addition to any diet.

Using Anchovies in Your Cooking

Anchovies can be used in a variety of dishes, including pasta sauces, salad dressings, and even as a pizza topping. Here are some tips for using anchovies in your cooking:

  • Use anchovies sparingly to avoid overpowering other flavors in your dish.
  • When using canned anchovies, rinse them under cold water to remove any excess salt.
  • Try using anchovies in place of fish sauce for a more complex flavor.
  • Use fresh anchovies in Spanish dishes, such as paella or tapas.
  • Add anchovies to your favorite meat dishes for an extra layer of flavor.

Anchovies may not be a familiar ingredient to everyone, but they are a valuable addition to any kitchen. Whether you love them or hate them, anchovies are a product that you’ll want to keep on hand for their unique flavor and health benefits.

Cutting and Cleaning Anchovies: A Comprehensive Guide

  • Rinse the fresh anchovies under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels.
  • Hold the anchovy with one hand and use your other hand to grab the head near the dorsal fin.
  • Gently pull the head downward towards the belly and tear it off.
  • Use your thumb and forefinger to hold the body near the head and gently pull the guts out.
  • Flatten the anchovy and use your thumb to slip the remaining guts out.
  • Use a pair of scissors to cut off the dorsal fin and the belly.

Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure to follow the steps carefully to maintain the lovely shape of the anchovies.
  • If you’re using dry anchovies, you don’t need to rinse them thoroughly, just pat them dry with paper towels.
  • If you’re new to cooking with anchovies, visit for inspiration and new recipe ideas.
  • Half a pound of raw anchovies should be enough for a simple fried anchovy recipe.
  • For best results, use fresh anchovies and fry them in small batches at a constant temperature.
  • Anchovies are delicate, so be gentle when cleaning them to avoid tearing the flesh.
  • Use your pinky finger to remove any remaining guts from the belly.
  • If you want a bigger anchovy fillet, consider cutting the anchovy in half before cleaning it.
  • Anchovies are included in many recipes as a flavor enhancer, so don’t be afraid to mix them into your favorite dishes.

Exploring the Versatility of Anchovies in Asian Cuisine

Anchovies are a staple in Chinese cuisine, and there are tons of ways to use them in your cooking. Here are some examples:

  • Use anchovies as a substitute for soy sauce or oyster sauce in stir-fry dishes. Simply add a small piece of dried anchovy to the dish while cooking, and it will add a unique umami flavor that is similar to soy sauce.
  • Prepare a traditional Chinese dish called “Steamed Pork with Salted Fish” by adding small pieces of anchovy to the pork before steaming. The anchovies will add a rich and complex flavor to the dish.
  • Use anchovies to make a stock for soups and stews. Simply boil a few pieces of anchovy in water for a few minutes, and you’ll have a flavorful stock that can be used as a base for many Chinese dishes.

Using Anchovies in Japanese Cuisine

Anchovies are not as commonly used in Japanese cuisine as they are in Chinese and Korean cuisine, but they still have their place. Here are some examples:

  • Use anchovies to make a traditional Japanese soup stock called “dashi.” To make dashi, simply boil dried anchovies in water for a few minutes, then strain out the anchovies and use the stock as a base for soups and stews.
  • Add anchovies to rice dishes for an extra burst of flavor. Simply mix ground anchovy with cooked rice and a bit of soy sauce for a quick and easy side dish.
  • Use anchovies to make a sauce for grilled fish. Simply mix ground anchovy with soy sauce, water, and a bit of sugar, then spread the mixture over the fish before grilling.

How to Pick the Best Anchovies for Cooking

When choosing anchovies for cooking, it’s best to opt for whole anchovies instead of fillets. Whole anchovies are usually of better quality because they are less processed and have a more intense flavor. Plus, you can use the bones and head to make a flavorful broth or stock.

Check the Label

When buying anchovies, always check the label for the country of origin and the processing method. The best anchovies come from the Mediterranean Sea and are usually packed in salt or oil. Avoid anchovies that are packed in brine or vinegar, as they tend to be of lower quality and have a less intense flavor.

Smell and Appearance

Good-quality anchovies should have a strong, salty aroma and a shiny, silver skin. Avoid anchovies that have a dull appearance or a fishy smell, as they may be old or of poor quality.


When choosing anchovies, pay attention to their texture. Good-quality anchovies should be firm and meaty, with a slightly chewy texture. Avoid anchovies that are too soft or mushy, as they may be over-processed or of poor quality.


While price is not always an indicator of quality, it’s important to remember that good-quality anchovies are usually more expensive than lower-quality ones. Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on high-quality anchovies, as they will add a rich, savory flavor to your dishes that is worth the investment.

Keeping Your Anchovies Fresh: How to Store Them

Anchovies are a great addition to any dish, but they need to be stored properly to keep them fresh. Here are some tips on how to store your anchovies:

  • If your anchovies are jarred or tinned, keep them in their original container.
  • Make sure the container is sealed with a tight-fitting lid to prevent air from getting in.
  • If you have opened the container, transfer the anchovies to a smaller container and make sure they are submerged in oil.
  • If you have leftover anchovies that you don’t plan on using, discard them. Don’t try to store them for later use as they will spoil quickly.

Keep Your Anchovies in the Fridge

Anchovies need to be stored in the fridge to keep them fresh. Here’s how to do it:

  • Place the container of anchovies in the fridge as soon as possible after purchasing or opening.
  • Make sure the container is stored in the coldest part of the fridge, such as the back or bottom shelf.
  • Keep the anchovies away from any strong-smelling foods in the fridge to prevent them from absorbing unwanted odors.

Freezing Your Anchovies

If you have a large amount of anchovies that you won’t be able to use before they spoil, you can freeze them. Here’s how:

  • Place the anchovies in a freezer-safe container or bag.
  • Make sure the container or bag is sealed tightly to prevent freezer burn.
  • Label the container or bag with the date so you know when you put them in the freezer.
  • When you’re ready to use the anchovies, thaw them in the fridge overnight.

Why Eating Anchovies Can Be a Healthy Choice

Anchovies are a small, oily fish that pack a flavorful punch. They are also surprisingly healthy! Here are some of the benefits of incorporating anchovies into your diet:

  • Anchovies are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are essential for maintaining good health, especially for your heart and brain.
  • Anchovies are also a good source of protein, which is important for building and repairing tissues in your body.

Low in Calories

  • Anchovies are low in calories, which makes them a great choice for people who are watching their weight. A 1-ounce serving of anchovies contains only about 40 calories.

Good for Your Gut

  • Anchovies are part of the Engraulidae family, which includes other small fish like sardines and herring. These fish are known for their gut-healthy benefits, as they are rich in probiotics that can help improve digestion and boost your immune system.

How They’re Prepared

  • Anchovies can be consumed fresh or cured. When gutting and curing anchovies, salt is added to draw out moisture and bacteria, allowing microbes to thrive and resulting in a pickling process. The packed and cured anchovies tend to be milder in flavor than fresh anchovies.
  • Anchovies can be fried, grilled, or baked, and are deliciously paired with a squeeze of lemon or dipped in garlic for an appetizer. They can also be enjoyed cold with a beer or incorporated into a variety of dishes for added flavor.
  • Dried anchovies are a popular ingredient in many Asian dishes, adding a salty and savory flavor to soups, stews, and stir-fries.


So, there you have it- all you need to know about cooking with anchovy. 

You can use them to add a savory flavor to your dishes, and they’re a great way to add some extra vitamins and minerals to your diet. 

So, don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works for you!

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.