The Health Benefits Of Anchovies, And How To Cook With Them

Get over your silly fears and take advantage of all these little fish have to offer.

You’ve probably already eaten anchovies, no matter how strongly you might insist that those wonderful little fishies just aren’t your scene. “Most people don’t realize that they have eaten them in lots of dishes, the most obvious being Caesar salad,” Sandy Davis, chef for New York-based Roxo Events, told HuffPost. “Even commercial brands of Caesar dressing have anchovies in them.”

But can such a tiny ingredient make a difference in a dish? Yes, say chefs. “They add the perfect umami exclamation point to so many dishes,” chef and tv personality Andrew Zimmern said.

“Anchovies are that ingredient that gives sauces a je ne sais quoi, from pasta puttanesca to green goddess dressing to olive tapenade,” said Rick Mace, owner and executive chef of Tropical Smokehouse in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“They offer a deep saltiness that can’t quite be replicated,” said Stephanie Barrett, executive chef de cuisine of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaurant Alden & Harlow, adding that anchovies can make a difference even if playing just a bit role in a dish.

Robin Selden, executive chef and managing partner of Marcia Selden Catering, said using high-quality anchovies can “add such incredible flavor without being fishy.”

OK, sure, they don't look so appetizing in the can. But we have tricks to help you ease into eating anchovies below.
Chicago Tribune via Getty Images
OK, sure, they don't look so appetizing in the can. But we have tricks to help you ease into eating anchovies below.

Anchovies are delicious and good for you

As delicious as anchovies are, it might be hard to believe they have a good nutritional story too. “They’re a fatty fish that boasts EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids,” registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Gorin told HuffPost. “Since 60% of the brain’s building block is fat, it’s essential to keep the brain fueled with DHA and EPA. Even better, these omega-3s are also super for heart health.

“As a nutritional wellness chef, I focus on the foods that work for you,” chef Marshall O’Brien told HuffPost. “Anchovies are a great example. They’re a rich source of the B vitamins niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B-12, which play an important role in energy production, digestion and the building of cell membranes.”

“Anchovies have no carbs and are high in protein, healthy fat and iron,” said Mikel Goikolea, executive chef of Miami’s Leku. “They help in keeping your vision, bones and cell repair in tune.”

See? Food with anchovies can look appealing.
Takanori Ogawa via Getty Images
See? Food with anchovies can look appealing.

10 ways experts use anchovies in their cooking

  1. “I cook them down into tomato sauce, like a puttanesca, until they almost dissolve. It infuses the dish with mysterious craveability and depth of flavor.” ― Karen Akunowicz, Fox & the Knife

  2. “For our signature onion dip, we use caramelized onions and garlic, then add in some anchovies, and it bumps the flavors through the roof.” — Stephanie Barrett, Alden & Harlow

  3. “I top steaks with a tangy mustard sauce made with caramelized onions, sherry, parsley, thyme, mustard, lemon juice, two cured anchovies, butter, salt and pepper. The anchovies melt into the sauce and combine with the loosened browned bits from the bottom of the steak pan.” ― registered dietitian nutritionist Amanda Frankeny

  4. “There is only one way to enjoy a good anchovy — plain, finished with a superior extra virgin olive oil and good crusty bread. Nothing surpasses this simple pleasure.” ― Mikel Goikolea, Leku

  5. “One of my favorite snacks is a rice cracker with a little mayo, some sauerkraut and a mashed anchovy right on top. It’s fire!” ― Brian Nasajon, Beaker & Gray

  6. “For our ‘leche de tigre’ sauce, we mix anchovies with 24-month-aged Parmesan, Italian colatura sauce and lime juice. It’s served with thinly sliced raw fish, garlic chips and basil oil.” — Diego Oka, La Mar by Gastón Acurio

  7. “I use them in a savory white clam pasta sauce. A great friend and amazing home cook once taught me his mom’s secret to this dish, and I’ve been making it this way ever since. The anchovies add so much unbeatable flavor to the sauce.” — Robin Selden, Marcia Selden Catering

  8. “I smash them up and pair them with hearts of crispy lettuces and aged Parmesan cheese to develop an amazing Caesar salad.” — Federico Tischler, Well Fed

  9. “I sauté them with vegetables and add them to salsa verde.” ― Demetrio Zavala, Solstice

  10. “I serve them over freshly roasted peppers with olive oil, in tonnato sauce and in anchoïade, a warm anchovy sauce. I also use them on pizza, as a topping on buttered bread, or in pasta with lots of parsley, olive oil and toasted breadcrumbs.” ― Andrew Zimmern

How to learn to love anchovies

According to many experts, you can certainly move toward liking anchovies more. Some suggest sneaking anchovies into foods, as long as you know the dietary restrictions and food sensitivities of your guests.”When I’m cooking at home, I mask ingredients like anchovies, onions and fish sauce, and I don’t let my daughter know which delicious ingredients she’s eating,” said Adam Polisei, corporate chef at Next Level Brands.

Or you might want to try some culinary persuasion. “If someone is anchovy-adverse, I ask if they like miso paste or Parmigiano-Reggiano,” said Karen Akunowicz, chef and owner of Fox & the Knife in Boston.I try to bridge the gap by offering other delicious and familiar ingredients that give shivers of umami, along with that deep salty deliciousness that heightens a dish and makes us go back for another bite.”

And, if whole anchovy filets just aren’t happening, she suggested “easing into the fishy goodness by starting out with Asian fish sauce or its Italian equivalent, colatura sauce. Then work your way up to anchovy paste or the funky Roman condiment garum. You’ll be topping your Caesar salad or pizza with little fishies in no time.”

Sergio Chamizo, executive chef of Miami’s Mareva 1939, offered a parting thought: “After you try them for the first time, they’ll stay in your pantry for the rest of your life.”

Best-loved anchovy brands

Here are some brands that come as *chef’s kiss* recommendations.

Agostina Recca: “This is a Sicilian brand I really like,” said Christian Chirino, executive chef of TUR Kitchen in Coral Gables, Florida.

Cento: “When I use tinned anchovies, this is my brand,” Akunowicz said.

Don Bocarte: “This brand has great quality,” Tischler said. Chamizo also recommended it: “They’re delicate, creamy and will melt in your mouth.”

Ortiz: “I like being able to see what they look like in the jar,” Selden said. “They have the right amount of meatiness, are just salty enough and aren’t fishy at all. I’ve tried different ones that are less expensive, but they don’t compare.”

Nettuno: “I buy from Nettuno Company in Cetara, Italy, a place I’ve visited several times,” Zimmern said. It’s still the oldest and best artisanal anchovy producer in Italy.”

Scalia: This brand is a favorite of chef Oka.

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