Homemade salt cured anchovy fillets are easy to make, healthy, and very tasty.
Some of the foods that I now love I once thought I hated. I went from hating avocadoes and olives to having them be some of my favorite foods. In fact, I even make my own salt cured olives now.
Another food that I thought that I disliked, without having tried them of course, was salt cured anchovies.
I mean, they must be gross. Right? In the moves people were always asking to get their pizzas without them.
I’m still not a fan of anchovies on pizza, but there aren’t many treats that beat some good salt cured anchovy fillets for me anymore!
Here in Spain, the equivalent word for anchovy, anchoa, is reserved only for the salt cured variety. Fresh anchovies are referred to as “boquerones.” Boquerones are very similar to sardines, and can be used in the same types of recipes; the main difference is really their size. While both fish are small, oily fish that are packed with healthy omega 3’s, sardines are slightly bigger than anchovies.
In Spanish, the term for oily fish is “pescado azul,” or “blue fish.” That is because most of the oily fish, and all of those that I know of caught here in the Mediterranean, have a bluish coloured skin. Oily fish are different from white fish in that they contain a higher percentage of fat in the flesh of the fish, and not just in the liver, as is the case with whitefish. (Why do you think they sell oil from just the liver of cod, a whitefish?) These fats are considered healthy fats because they have a good dose of Omega 3’s and have been shown to help prevent against heart disease.
What’s the down side?
Oily fish tend to also have a slightly higher dose of mercury contamination. Smaller oily fish like anchovies and sardines, though, have lower doses of mercury and other heavy metals than the bigger fish that are higher up on the food chain like swordfish and tuna.
I tend to have very low blood pressure myself, and sometimes, especially in the summer, go through dizzy spells and black out when I get up quickly. It was recommended to me to eat a salt cured anchovy every morning to help regulate the way I was feeling.
While I didn’t get into the habit of eating them every single morning, I do eat them often because I really do enjoy them, especially when they are homemade! Don’t get me wrong, an occasional canned anchovy is fine, but it will never compare to those made at home.
A great, healthy, fat-packed snack that I like to make myself is homemade salt cured anchovy fillets with homemade salt cured olives! While I enjoy them plain with a plate of olives, most people here choose to eat them on toast.
Here in Spain, they are probably surprised to see me write that I think that people need to seriously increase their intake of healthy fats. It’s quite obvious from the television commercials here that Spain hasn’t quite embraced the idea that people need more fats, not just for heart health, but also for regulating hormones and helping prevent neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Instead, commercials still boast about things having grains, or “cereales,” as if that were a healthy addition to the product. You can find low fat (high sugar) versions of things, claimed to be healthier, packed with grains. They even add them to things like highly processed chocolate milk, as if it weren’t gross enough, and unhealthy enough, already. 😉
Then there are the commercials for high sugar yogurts claiming to increase your defenses and lower your cholesterol, or soy products claiming to be healthier than other alternatives.
Heck, there are still commercials for butter flavored margarines claiming to be healthier than butter!!!
Don’t even get me started on that one… it’s a topic for another day. Just know that it’s been pretty obvious for quite some time now that hydrogenated, vegetable oils that are high in omega 6s are not good for you and will never compare to butter, especially if that butter is from grass fed cows, making it higher in omega 3s than conventionally raised cow products.
I guess I went on a bit of a tangent, but it was all to get my point across.
Healthy fats are, well, healthy! Got it?
So, that brings us to my salt cured anchovy fillets recipe…
- fresh anchovies
- extra virgin olive oil
- Clean the anchovies by removing the entrails and heads, and then rinsing out the belly cavity.
- Add a layer of sea salt to the bottom of the glass container in which you want to store your anchovies.
- Add a layer of anchovies, followed by another layer of sea salt, followed by more anchovies.
- Continue layering until you have used up all of the anchovies, and finish with a layer of salt, making sure to completely cover all of the fish.
- To ensure that all of the fish are well preserved, mix up a batch of brine solution. This is achieved by adding salt to warm water, and dissolving as much salt into it as you possibly can. Once you have your brine solution ready, pour it over your anchovies and salt, just covering them.
- Cover your container and put it into the fridge for about 3 months. (Yes, you read that right!) 😉
- Once 3 months have passed, you can start to take a look at your anchovies. They should now be cured and have a light brown flesh color.
- Remove a few anchovies from the salt. I like to prepare just a few anchovies at a time, not more than what I think I’ll use in a week or two.
- Fillet each anchovy by removing the spine section with your fingers.
- Add the anchovy fillets to a bowl with fresh water. While you can eat them immediately, they tend to be too salty if you don’t leave them in salt water for a little while first.
- After an hour or two, check on the anchovies for saltiness. If you still find them way too salty, you may want to change the water, and leave them for another hour or two. This part depends on how salty your particular anchovies have become, and your taste.
- Once the anchovies have reached the desired level of saltiness, dry them off on a cotton or paper towel, and place them into the container in which you want to store them.
- Cover with extra virgin olive oil, and you are done!
So, yes, the process is quite long, but it isn’t difficult, and it is so worth it!
I really enjoy making my own salt cured anchovy fillets whenever I can get ahold of fresh anchovies! While my husband is a fisherman, he tends to only fish for shrimp, so I don’t have access to fresh anchovies as often as I would like.
If you want to prepare your own anchovy fillets, but don’t want to wait three months, you can also buy imported salt packed anchovies online. If you choose to buy the salt packed variety, you can begin with the filleting step above.
Hi all -love the robust but respectful discussions. As a South African it is cheaper for me to buy commercially made anchovies than to make them myself. But I make them myself and love the experience. Best regards Peter McLeod
I’ll currently fermenting some anchovies in the fridge right now, but I’m wondering if at room temperature this process would work faster? There doesn’t seem to be much literature on this, but I just finished watching a video about how they make fish sauce (basically the same process) in a Vietnamese fishing town respected for this tradition, and they seem to leave the anchovies out in pots. Any thoughts?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
I really don’t know. I know some people do the salt curing at room temperature. I think my father-in-law did some larger batches like that. (We found some big vats of anchovies he had been working on when he died.) That said, when he taught me, he told me to put it in the fridge. (Perhaps he was worried something would go wrong and wanted to err on the side of caution?)
I’ve been curious about this myself, though.
John Ryan De Guzman
If I am going to make this food for selling, how long it will last? Like what is the span before it will expire from the time I repack this food?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
I have had batches keep for many months. We’ve eaten them before they have ever gone bad. I can’t really give an expiration for selling, though. I don’t know how they calculate those.
Thanks for this Tracy! Anchovy season just started in California and I got a huge batch this week! I did have 2 questions: (1) Do you have to use glass in the brining process? Or is plastic tupperware suitable? (2) How long do they keep once the brining process is complete and they’re immersed in the oil and in the fridge? Thanks so much!
No, it’s not essential. My father-in-law used to make them in food-safe plastic containers. I just worry about the possible problems with plastic coming in contact with our foods. I feel better about using glass and stainless steel for most of my food containing at home, so that’s what I recommend to others. 😉
As for how long they keep? It really depends on how long you rinse them. If you keep them on the salty side, they actually keep for quite a long time. If you remove a lot of the salt, though, you’ll find that the flavor will change after several days, even if you keep them immersed in oil.
These days I usually just rinse off most of the salt, dry them well, and then place in oil. They keep for a very long time that way! My mother-in-law prefers soaking them in water because she finds anchovies to be too salty otherwise. They don’t keep as long that way. I guess I figure that the saltiness is part of their charm- but it’s all a matter of preference.
In any case, you should notice a difference in smell/taste before they go bad. I like to err on the side of caution and dispose of them at the first sign of something being off.
We use a fish called caplin from Newfoundland. Very similar to smelt and very oily. We catch them and salt heavily. They will keep for a long time. Then we take as many as we’d like, wash the salt off and perhaps soak for an hour or two. Then we either filet them or use whole. Add olive oil and place in frig for a few days. Really tastes very similar to commercially bought anchovies.
That sounds wonderful! Yes, we’ve tried with many different types of fish, and it really works well with all of them. I love salt-cured fish. 🙂
thank you i will try it today ,i love to learn the basics and then i manipulate it to my taste
That’s a very smart way of using recipes!
You sound like me! 🙂
I’m always experimenting and trying to do things differently- until I find what makes me happiest.
I bought really tiny black anchovies whole at an Asian market. I want to try your recipe but I noticed you clean all the fish. Is this really necessary if the fish are really tiny, like 1 1/2 inches? Seems like an awful lot of work…
There are people who don’t clean the fish first, but we always have because the innards tend to give the fish a bitter flavor that I don’t like at all. That, coupled with the idea of leaving all of the bacteria and possible toxins in the intestines of the fish to sit and cure there for weeks and months on end just doesn’t appeal to me.
You could give it a try, but in the end, consider the fact that it will probably be harder to clean them well once they have cured and you’ll probably end up with an inferior tasting product. Once you get the hang of the cleaning process, you can really whip through it rather quickly. We go through several kilograms of anchovies in very little time. Ours are about twice that big, though.
Oh, and by the way, concerns about mercury in fish are rather old fashioned. I can’t believe people are still hanging on to this!! For pity’s sake!! It’s the 21st century!!! (See what I did there?)
For more information, this link https://chriskresser.com/5-reasons-why-concerns-about-mercury-in-fish-are-misguided/ is quite solid.
I, once again, agree with you. Perhaps I should reword that section to make it clearer that I eat blue fish daily, and that I don’t believe that to be a problem.
My husband owns a fishing boat, and I ate fish throughout my pregnancy, and eat more than the 12 ounces in a week talked about in the article.
That said, some people prefer to err on the side of caution, and the point I wanted to get across was that even if blue fish have higher levels of mercury than whitefish, that because anchovies and sardines are so small, that the amounts in them are much less than those seen in fish much higher up the food chain.
So, for those wishing to err on the side of caution, I’d suggest that rather than avoiding fish, especially blue fish which I think are probably the healthiest for you, that they could choose smaller fish like anchovies and sardines. That said, I don’t avoid any fish as of yet, and don’t promote avoiding fish as I think they are a very healthy addition to our diets.
As if the States were the healthiest nation in the world, and EVERYBODY there knew low-fat is not the way to go (for most people).
I am sorry, but I am a bit put off by the condescending tone in this post. Actually, if there are such things as fortified cereal and low-fat yoghourts in Spain (or anywhere else for the matter) it’s because, for some reason that will always escape me, too many people think the United States are a model to follow. None of all this started in Spain, precisely. I don’t know why anyone would want to imitate or import anything from a place in which 1 in 3 people are obese or overweight, and which has one of the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortalities in the developed world!
I’m sorry if you were offended by my mockery of Spanish commercials. I don’t think that a cholesterol lowering margarine should be promoted as good for your heart health, no matter where it is shown.
I was in no way saying that the United States was better than Spain, in any case. You seem to have taken it that way, or otherwise I don’t know why you seem to be so offended by a subject that we seem to agree on. I would be just as critical of the same sorts of stupid commercials in the United States or wherever I happened to be living at the time of writing. I’m just commenting on to what I have going on around me; and living in Spain, I talk about my home.
My comment referred to the fact that when I left the US, the most popular diets happened to be low carb type diets like Atkins, South Beach, etc. I didn’t (and still don’t) see as many people embracing low carbohydrate diets here yet. I’m not even saying one way of eating is better than another, I’m just making an observation that at the time of writing the article, people were more likely to avoid carbs in the US than in Spain. I wasn’t saying anything was better or worse; just making an observation.
I really don’t care if they add grains to chocolate flavoring for milk. I wouldn’t buy it and drink it either way. It just surprised me to hear on a commercial that promoted it as a healthier option because they had added grains, when back in the US, the commercials would be boasting the opposite: they’d be promoting the low carbohydrate version of the same garbage.
You see, I’m not saying one chocolate garbage is better than the other, but trying to explain the perceptions of the people buying the bad processed foods that, sadly, are available everywhere.
I’m sorry if I overreacted. It’s just that, being in the Mediterranean myself, I’m pretty fed up with people from the States (in general) criticising diets and food choices, when their own health is so poor (on a national average).
Actually I’m more of a Weston Price-ish person, and I believe that, grains or no grains, starch or no starch, saturated fat or no saturated fat, people should eat properly prepared good food the way their people have always eaten, in a way that is aligned with their genetics. For people in the Mediterranean zone, for instance, this does mean less saturated fat than for someone from Northern Europe, and bread, and pizza… But properly prepared, of course!
Oh, and if you’re half and half, like you and me… Hmm… That’s a good one. I’d say there’s lots of room for experimentation with one’s own body, and finding what makes one feel best!
Yes, I think everybody needs to experiment and find what works best for them! Unfortunately, it can be tricky sometimes!!
I’m getting there little by little, I think.
This blog, over the years, is a testament to that. I did a lot of dairy at first. I moved to grain free, and then figured out that I think I handle even gluten much better than dairy. Oh well. I figure people can use whatever of my recipes that best adapts to their personal diet. That’s why many of my recipes are either paleo or vegan or whatever, even though I am not strictly following any diet myself. I guess mine would resemble the paleo diet most, but, well, you understand, right? 😉