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How to Cook With Anchovies

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

Anchovies are a small fish brimming with big flavor. Anchovies lend depth and umami to any number of Mediterranean-inspired dishes and also make a great high-protein snack.



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What Are Anchovies?

Anchovies are a small fish found in temperate ocean regions around the world that are most commonly used as a culinary seasoning or garnish. Anchovies are often grouped with sardines, which are a slightly larger fish with a milder, meatier flavor profile.

What Do Anchovies Taste Like?

While anchovy fillets are undeniably fishy, the salty funkiness of these little fish is their strength. Anchovies have a rich, umami flavor that adds a layer of complexity when dissolved into a sauce or emulsified into a dressing.

The savory flavor of anchovies is comparable to other umami heavy-hitters like truffles, Parmesan cheese, and aged meats.

7 Ways to Cook With Anchovies

Anchovies have caught a bad wrap over the years due to their pungent aroma and assertive taste, but they’re the secret ingredient in many beloved dishes because they add flavor. There are many ways to use anchovies to add flavor to your next meal.

  1. Appetizers: While anchovy fillets are salt-cured before being stored in oil, Spanish-style boquerones (also known as brown anchovies) are fresh anchovies that are lightly salted and marinated in vinegar before setting in olive oil. This milder preparation lends itself to simple weeknight snacking—especially when dressed with lemon juice and zest alongside crostini and olives. For a spicier preparation, fold brown anchovies onto cocktail picks with hot, pickled peppers.
  2. Pizza: Anchovies are a staple in Italian-made pizza. Throughout Liguria, they’re an integral feature of pissaladière, a pizza with caramelized onions and black olives topped with whole anchovies arranged in a crosshatch pattern. (Pissalat, an anchovy paste, is sometimes added into the caramelized onions to bolster the flavor.)
  3. Pasta: The umami from anchovies helps balance the flavors in a pasta dish like puttanesca—a garlicky tomato sauce studded with briny olives, anchovies, and capers.
  4. Sauces and compound butters: Anchovies add integral umami flavor to remoulades, Worcestershire sauce, and the classic Caesar salad dressing with Parmesan cheese. Anchovy compound butter gives dishes like shrimp scampi or seared steak a boost of umami.
  5. Bagna cauda: Garlic meets anchovy and extra-virgin olive oil in this warm Italian dip served alongside crudites.
  6. Breadcrumbs: The best breadcrumbs are crunchy, salty, and fragrant—adding breadcrumbs to anchovies puts the flavor over the top. Before toasting fresh crumbs in a skillet, dissolve 2–3 fillets in the hot oil with some minced garlic and red pepper flakes. The breadcrumbs will absorb the anchovy essence and add subtle punctuation to a salad of bitter greens or a bright, lemony pasta.
  7. Fried: Fried anchovies melt in your mouth because of their delicate structure. Pair fried anchovies with garlic mayonnaise for a tangy snack or enjoy them on their own.
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