What To Look For When Buying Fresh Anchovies

It can be hard to believe that before they are filleted, cured, and packed in oil, the brownish-crimson slivers most of us know as anchovies actually come in any other form. Like the sardines they are often mistaken for, you can actually buy anchovies whole and fresh. Though they aren't much to look at, fresh anchovies still have their uses in a variety of different cultures and their respective cuisines. And if you're planning on buying some yourself, there are a few things you should watch out for. 

What you should be looking for in fresh anchovies are ones that have silver and shiny scales, bright and bulging eyes, and a firm, but flexible body. There should also be a red halo forming near the head. As with any fish, fresh anchovies should smell fresh and mildly oceanic. If an anchovy spoils, you'll know. They're also extremely delicate fish, so you'll likely find ones that's had their flesh bruised, which does not affect the overall quality of the fish. Now that you know how to pick the freshest ones, all that's left for you to do is decide what to do with them.

How to cook with fresh anchovies

Unlike their canned counterparts, fresh anchovies are not intensely salty. Instead, they have a sweeter flavor with just a hint of brine. This mildness opens them up to a wider variety of uses and flavors. Rather than being relegated to salad dressings or dissolved into a sauce, anchovies can be enjoyed as they are. In fact, there are many cultures throughout the world that utilize them in their fresh form. 

In Liguria, the skinny coastal region in northwestern Italy, anchovies are stuffed with leftover vegetables and milk-soaked bread crumbs. In Spain, they are coated in flour, fried in oil, and served with lemon and an ice-cold beer. They can be marinated and served on sandwiches, grilled, or steamed. However they are cooked, fresh anchovies have a wide variety of versatility and work well with many different ingredients, including tomatoes, cornmeal, garlic, and any number of herbs and spices.