Anchovy Lover

There are people who love anchovies, people who do not love them but are not in the least bothered by their existence, and then there are people who become mentally unhinged from merely hearing the word “anchovy” spoken.

It’s a depressingly common occurrence to watch restaurant guests squirm in their seats when I tell them we’re serving fresh Monterey Bay anchovies. It’s as if these people are imagining that a small school of them had somehow found its way into their underpants and was now making a panicked attempt to swim up their urethrae.

I can think of no other possible explanation for their revulsion.

“I have the feeling you’d like me to move on to the next special,” is often the next thing out of my mouth. And then, if we happen to be selling them that evening, I proceed to rhapsodize about the fried lamb testicles.

What is it about anchovies that causes such passionate revulsion? What on earth or in the sea have these poor creatures done besides be stupid enough to get caught en masse in fishing nets?

Nothing. Next to plankton, they are the innocents of the ocean.

I won’t proselytize or otherwise try to convert the anchovy haters of the world to a state of love and acceptance, but my heart grieves for them.

The ecstasy of a freshly tossed caesar salad is lost on them, the experience of munching a pissaladière carpeted with olives will forever evade them, and never will they know the satisfaction of licking gentleman’s relish from the corners of their mouths.

At that’s just fine. It means there’s more for me. And for you, if you’re into it.

Cured Anchovies

My friend Harry at Kokkari not was not only kind enough to order me up a pound of fresh anchovies, but personally showed me how to filet them without using a knife. I was grateful for his services and relieved to know that I did not need some doll-sized boning instrument to perform the task.

On top of all that helpfulness, he then told me how to cure them like we do at the restaurant. The preparation is as simple and straightforward as I imagine the anchovies themselves to be. Granted, I’ve never examined the inner life of an anchovy, so I wouldn’t know. I have, however, examined its inner organs.

The anchovies are ready to eat after five or six hours, but they are even better the next day. By Day Two, their flavor remains clean and bright, but the texture becomes buttery soft, nearly melting on the tongue upon contact. By Day Three, they will have fallen apart.

However, for anyone who loves anchovies as much as I do, there is no such thing as Day Three.

Makes as many cured anchovies as you have the patience for.


• Fresh anchovies. I use those fish caught in Monterey Bay. Choose the anchovies that roam closest to your home. If you live in the tropics or in the center of a large continent, this is potentially problematic.
• Olive oil. A mild one. Do not use the bottle The Baron gave you that day you helped him to his car after the accident. It is not only too precious, but too astringent.
• Lemon juice. Eureka, Meyer, or Liz. It’s really up to you.
• Kosher Salt. Sea salt feels totally unnecessary, given the subject matter.
• Finely chopped dill. A healthy amount, but not so much that your marinade looks like a kelp-choked tidal flat.


1. Obtain anchovies.

2. Give the fish a quick rinse under cold water. Take one anchovy, turn it upside down, and spread its gills.

Are the gills a bloody red? Excellent. That means the anchovies are very fresh.

Now pinch the cartilage bone hard bit that runs between the gills from the belly to the mouth and twist to pull out the entrails.

3. Pretending your pinky finger is a rather dull knife, run it gently down the belly of the fish, from head to tail. Remove any remaining organs.

4. Massage the fish’s spine until it comes loose from the flesh. At this point, you may either discard the spines, use them for a festive tablescape, or do as my friend Tom Hudgens would and fry them up into crispy chips. He does things like that.

You may also remove the head and tail, if you like. I prefer my fish to look as much like fish as possible, so I leave them on. 

Repeat until there are no more anchovies to filet or your enthusiasm for the job leaves you entirely.

5. Lay your filleted anchovies skin side down and sprinkle moderately with salt. Leave them on your counter, go do something constructive like calming any anchovy haters* in the vicinity, and return 30 minutes later to rinse the salt off the fish.

6. After offering a sincere apology to the anchovies for ripping them open and pouring salt into their wounds, place them in a shallow baking dish.

7. To make the marinade, add one part lemon juice to three parts olive oil, add as much dill as seems reasonable to you and whisk together.

Pour enough marinade over the fish to drown them, cover the dish, and place in the refrigerator until they are ready to be eaten and you, in turn, are ready to eat them.

Before serving, taste one of the fillets. If you feel they are not salty enough, sprinkle with a little more.

Serve the First-Day anchovies on their own, with just a drizzle of the marinade and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Serve Second-Day anchovies on toasted bread with great lashings of butter.

Serve Third-Day anchovies to your cat.

Do not serve Seventh-Day anchovies on the Sabbath.

* Make certain to wash your hands thoroughly before comforting.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Meatness, Rants and Stories, Savories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Anchovy Lover

  1. Garrett says:

    Never made fresh anchovies. Never can find them in Sac, it seems. But, oh, I do love them.

  2. Ryan says:

    I recently had the fried anchovies at Esperpento, and did not die, as my mother would have had me believe I would, so I may have to try this preparation. At least to try the knife-free filleting technique. Truly, the anchovy’s expression in the inner organs photo is perhaps the most perfect, “oh, that can’t be good.” I’ve ever seen.

  3. Lindy says:

    I’m sorry, but I d.e.t.e.s.t. them!!!! I remember putting sardines on crackers when I was 12 for my wonderful, crazy uncle. He loved them . . . I’m just a “damn, damn” old woman……..what do you expect…..sardines/anchovies…… gag-a-maggot! (but adore your post anyway!)

    • Perhaps if you were to have cut out the crackers and placed the sardines directly upon your uncle, a lot of this unpleasantness could have been avoided. It’s not as if he would have minded– he was crazy.

  4. Sharon says:

    Plankton, innocent? Do you not watch Sponge Bob?

  5. Thank you for teaching me how to do this.
    I adore anchovies and I absolutely delight in putting ground anchovies into almost every stew I make to give it that rich, dark undefinable flavor that my foolish anchovy hating friends seem to love. The more they hate them, the more I tend to serve them stews and braises full of “gentlemen’s relish” type goodness. Tom’s trick with the spines is something we used to do back home in Alabama with small pan fish – crunchy, tasty and full of calcium. By the way a good rule of thumb is never have sex with someone that doesn’t love anchovies

  6. Alanna says:

    I didn’t love anchovies until I discovered the boquerones on the caesar salad at Small Shed, in Mill Valley. I wish I weren’t so squeamish, because that anchovy-toast shot looks SO amazing. And I’m sure my cat would agree.

    • The anchovy toast was alarmingly good, actually. The anchovies more or less melted on my tongue.

      I’m glad you had your anchovy moment of recognition. It’s an important step towards personhood.

  7. Kitten says:

    I’m sorry, but my meats must not look like the animals from whence they came. If my choice was between removing fish entrails and vegetarianism, I’d stick to gutting bell peppers.

  8. nat says:

    oh how i love anchovies, your writing, and you michael!! xo

  9. Sherry says:

    I love what anchovies, but I literally felt faint (and swayed in my chair) as I read, “Pretending your pinky finger is a rather dull knife, run it gently down the belly of the fish, from head to tail. Remove any remaining organs.” I think I will leave this to the professionals.

    • Sherry, one of my chiefest pleasures in writing about food is that I get to be as graphic as humanly possible.

      I figure that, since the eating of animals is a brutal business, I should remind myself of that fact so that I appreciate what’s in front of me all the more.

      And then there’s the part about me liking to make people uncomfortable with my descriptions. I will examine that little thing with my therapist when I return stateside.

  10. Jay Floyd says:

    I loathe anchovies so much it’s almost a political conviction.

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  12. Adore them. I adore even more the look on people’s faces when I tell people that the secret ingredient in the things they are eating is anchovies. I love doing this even when anchovies are not the secret ingredient. I’m funny that way I guess.

  13. Dan says:

    This might just be the finest blog post I have ever read. I must pack my case and move immediately to Monterey Bay, where I will gorge on cured anchovies and pink gins until I expire.

    • I never realized Monterey Bay was famous for it’s pink gin. Do you think the coloration has anything to do with the local algal bloom?

      • Dan Main says:

        I picture Monterey Bay as an exotic beach of tumble down shacks and palm trees, with flamingos in top hats and monocles strutting along the shore, each clutching a pink gin with one cocked leg (which I think you’ll find is what gives them their colour. Or maybe the flamingos colour the gin).

        But then, we English picture anywhere abroad in this way, and have strived to make it so through colonialism and compulsory angostura bitters for all.

  14. Chris says:

    Anchovies I got no problem with, but lamb testicles…testicles are my kryptonite.

    • And now your enemies will know to wear them around their necks like a string of lumpy pearls in order to become impervious to your powers.

      Believe me, I’ve tried the testicles. I’m not exactly going back for more. You ain’t missing much.

  15. Guy Kuchera says:

    Anchovies do make everything better,and I will have to try your pissaladiere. I have found that they add umami in many places. One of the dishes of which I am proudest is lamb shank cooked with anchovy and wild mushroom. See the post here for the motivation, recipe and variations. It is really worth the effort:`-:`

    I’ll see you in a bit

    • Guy,

      I once made lamb shank for a dinner party. The guests would be arriving any minute, but there was something missing from the braising liquid. It was fragrant, but terribly flat. In an act of desperation, I added a few anchovies to it and everything magically pulled together.

      Anchovies are a life saver!

  16. Jasspreet says:

    Cooking with anchovies has been a baghktrroueh! My only real experience with them before was in ceasar dressing and I liked them staying there. But after watching several cooking shows and seeing how chopped anchovy literally dissolves into some hot olive oil, I had to try it. It adds this further dimension of flavor that is not fishy at all. I find cauliflower (and other cooked hearty veggies) need a punch of flavor and in this case, anchovies pulled their weight. Yum!

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