The Reason Your Canned Anchovies Are A Mushy Mess

It is difficult to imagine that a tin of anchovies requires the same amount of care and attention as a piece of produce when it comes to its storage, but it does. Though not nearly as popular an ingredient in the U.S. as they are in Europe, anchovies are useful and versatile ingredients nonetheless. One of the reasons why they might get a bad rap in the U.S. is that we don't know that we're storing them wrong this side of the Atlantic, and rather than blame ourselves, we decide we don't like the product.  

But the product is not to blame here. Though anchovies are shelf stable to a certain extent, they aren't going to last forever. The salt-curing process does a good job of removing harmful bacteria, but it hasn't removed everything. Commonly present in a can is bacteria that, while safe for human consumption, breaks down the flesh of the small filets, turning the tin's contents into a mushy, oily slurry. And this process is accelerated if the anchovies are above a certain temperature. 

Properly storing anchovies means keeping them in a place where the surrounding environment discourages bacterial metabolism. This means the canned anchovies need to be kept cool so as to preserve their shape for the longest possible time, and the best place for this is the refrigerator.

Refrigerate your canned anchovies

Anchovies don't require refrigeration, but it is highly recommended. Brands like Crown Prince suggest refrigerating anchovies following their procurement from the grocery store. As even room temperature heat will hasten the bacteria that causes the anchovies to turn too mush (and even the cans to swell), the cool temperatures of the refrigerator slow the bacterial growth rate down significantly, thereby preserving the structural integrity of the filets. When kept out in the pantry, the typical shelf life for a can of anchovies is between six months to a year. By keeping them in the fridge, you increase their shelf life by an extra six months. 

When you're ready to use them, you won't want to open the can immediately after you've taken it out of the fridge. The olive oil will have congealed, and the anchovies will be stuck together. Wait for 20 minutes or so and allow the can to come up to room temperature to soften. If you've got some anchovies tucked away in the pantry, do yourself a favor and find room for them in the fridge. They don't take up that much space, and you'll be glad you took the extra effort once you taste them — perhaps properly for the first time!