Anchovies that are packed in oil need to be drained before use. | Marc Fosh

I found some fresh anchovies in the market this week and I just had to buy them as they looked so fresh and inviting. Half of them I just dipped in well-seasoned flour with a little paprika and deep fried until crisp, they made the perfect tapas style snack, and I finished them with just a squeeze of lemon and a little sea salt. Delicious! The other half I marinated to eat the next day with a simple tomato salad. What a treat!

They are known in Spanish as anchoas or boquerones depending on whether they are salt cured (anchoas) or either preserved in vinegar or fried (boquerones). For most people, anchovies are a love or hate ingredient when they are salted, but I must admit that I love them.

Like salt, anchovies are a natural flavour enhancer. They’re rich in a compound called inosinate which, when combined with the glutamate you get in beef or lamb, emphasises the natural meatiness of those ingredients. The very intelligent Romans knew this. Though the ancient Greeks probably invented garum, the liquor of salted anchovy (or mackerel) guts, dried in the sun, flavoured with herbs, decomposed by its own bacteria and then matured that became the chief condiment of Rome, seasoning almost every dish in their repertoire.

The anchovy is a small fish belonging to the Engraulidae family and here in Spain it is generally salted. Although the anchovy salting tradition, as with other fish, stems back to the Phoenicians, production as a semi-preserve began in Santoña (Cantabria) and other towns along the Basque coast towards the end of the 19th century. The process begins with salting and pressing of the fish which are then left to cure for several months until they acquire the right reddish colour and aroma. The next steps vary depending on whether the anchovies are to be packed in brine or in oil.

A good, preserved anchovy ranks among the gastronomic greats and the Cantabrian anchovy (Engraulis Encrasicholus) is considered the best for this process of semi-preservation because of its strong aroma, delicate texture and pinkish flesh. The anchovies from Santoña (Cantabria) are a traditional product with an excellent aroma and flavour and are packed in olive oil. They can be eaten alone or as an ingredient for canapés, salads, pasta, etc.

Equally famous within Spain are the anchovies from l’Escala, a fishing town on the coast of Girona (Catalonia), where there is a longstanding, Mediterranean-salting tradition. These anchovies are cured for a shorter period and are packed in brine or olive or sunflower oil in glass jars. They are associated in Catalonian cuisine with the staple bread and tomato tapa.

Anchovies that are packed in oil need to be drained before use. You may want to soak the really salted varieties in milk for a while to get rid of any excess saltiness. Use anchovies to make anchovy butter to serve with fish, anchovy toast, tapenade or the Italian bagna cauda. As I said, anchovies have an affinity with red meat but they also liven up endless ingredients including cauliflower, tomatoes, beetroot, potatoes and soft cheese. They also form the basis of condiments such as anchovy essence, Worcestershire sauce and Asian fish sauce.

Roasted Mushrooms with anchovy butter

Here in Mallorca, look out for “Esclata-sangs”. They are large, big flavoured mushrooms that are just perfect for grilling or roasting.

Serves 6

  • 500g mixed mushrooms, cleaned & halved
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

For the anchovy butter

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 6 fresh anchovies, drained of oil and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1tbsp chopped Paisley
  • Black pepper

1 For the anchovy butter, place the butter into a bowl and add the lemon zest, chopped anchovies, garlic and chopped Paisley.

2 Mix to combine and Season with Black pepper.

3 Place the butter mixture onto a sheet of cling film or baking parchment laid out on a clean work surface, and roll into a log.

4 Place the prepared butter log in the fridge and leave to chill until firm.

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5 Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.

6 Arrange the mushrooms in a roasting tray in a single layer, then cook for 15 minutes.

7 Remove the mushrooms and pour away any excess liquid, then add 4 or 5 slices of anchovy butter, rosemary, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

8 Mix well and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes until tender.

9 Scatter with a little chopped parsley before serving, season and serve with crusty bread.

Boquerones (Marinated anchovies)

Serves 6

  • 400g fresh anchovies
  • 250ml white wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 150ml Virgin olive oil
  • 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
  • A bunch of fresh parsley for serving, chopped

1 Clean the fish by simply twisting and pinching off the heads, making a slit along the belly and pulling out the innards. Rinse well under cold running water.

2 Butterfly the fish, using a knife to extend the cut along the belly (used for gutting) right down to the tail.

3 Put the anchovies, belly down, on a board and open them out, press firmly along the backbone with your thumbs to loosen it. Turn the fish over and pull out the backbone. Try to leave the little tail fins on. You will then have the two fillets still joined together.

4 Wash and carefully dry the anchovies, put them in a shallow dish and pour over the wine vinegar to cover. Leave for about 10 minutes until the anchovies are beginning to turn white, then remove them and pat dry.

5 Arrange the anchovies, skin side up, in a dish and pour over the lemon juice, scatter over the chopped parsley, salt and garlic, and cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour. Pour over the olive oil before serving.

Anchoide – tantalise the tastebuds

Begin with a superb variation on a tapenade that tantalises and stimulates the taste buds. Anchoide makes great tempting canapes served over a little freshly toasted bread and served with a glass of well chilled Champagne or Cava. Its easy to make, yet tastes divine.

Serves 8

  • 10 salted anchovies
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Freshly ground pepper

Wash the anchovies under cold running water and drain well on kitchen paper.Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.