Anchovies are a very important part of the flavor of Italian food. However, many people, even fans of Italian food claim to not like anchovies. Some people have bad memories of smelly little fish on pizza that have forever tainted their view of Italian food that includes anchovies. Unbeknownst to many of these people is the fact that anchovies are widely used in Italian food and it’s likely that some of their favorite Italian food dishes are made with anchovies.
These small and often misunderstood fish are used extensively in Italian food and there comes a point when it is impossible to enjoy Italian food without running into these little guys. Anchovies are a small saltwater fish. They are only about three inches long but pack quite a flavor. There are six different species of anchovies that are used in Italian food. From April to September is the Sicilian anchovy season and these species are lighter in flavor than the Spanish anchovies that make up a bulk of the anchovies used in Italian food.
Anchovies must quickly be preserved in order to keep the flavor that is wanted for Italian food intact. The most traditional way to preserve anchovies is packed in salt. This is the best way to guarantee an authentic Italian food flavor. Soon after the fish are caught they are cleaned and washed in salt brine and then set out to dry. The fish are then layered in round tins with sea salt in between each layer. The tins are then left to season for up to two months. A weight is placed on top of the tins in order to compress the fish and remove any extra fluids and fat from the fish. After the curing time is up they are sealed up and shipped off to be used in different Italian food dishes around the world.
Another way to preserve anchovies is to pack them in olive oil. This is similar to the above method of preserving, except that after the seasoning period is over the fish are again washed and the scales, skin, and bones are removed before placing the fish in jars or tins of olive oil. There are other ways to preserve anchovies for use in Italian food, but none are as popular as these first two. Anchovy paste is readily available, however this paste does not have the anchovy flavor that is desired for Italian food and instead ends up tasting just plain salty.
When using anchovies in Italian food it is important to rinse them first. They are much too salty the way you buy them and you want to wash away some of the excess salt. If you are shopping for anchovies to use in a specific Italian food dish, make sure to buy just enough for the meal you are planning. Anchovies do not last very long once opened and should be used right away to ensure the flavor. If you have leftover anchovies then wash them and put them in a jar of olive oil. Seal the jar and place it in the refrigerator. This will only buy you five more days but if the fish are left in the tin after opening they will begin to get a metallic flavor that will ruin your Italian food.
Now you know a little more about this Italian food favorite. The next time you see anchovies listed as an ingredient at your favorite Italian food restaurant go on and give it a try; you might be surprised at how good it is.