How to Use Anchovies in Cooking

Anchovies are often misunderstood, relegated to the sidelines or even omitted due to their strong flavor profile. However, these small but mighty fish can elevate your cooking with their umami richness when used correctly.

Whether you are a connoisseur of the pungent salty kick they provide or you’re attempting to incorporate them for the first time, understanding how to use anchovies can transform a range of dishes from lackluster to mouth-watering.

Anchovies being crushed into a paste with garlic and olive oil, then added to a sizzling pan of sautéed vegetables and pasta

In your kitchen, anchovies can serve several roles. You can use them as a base ingredient to build depth in sauces and dressings or feature them prominently to complement the main elements of a dish.

Their versatility extends beyond pizza toppings and Caesar salads to pastas, roasted vegetables, and even inventive marinades.

The key is balancing their inherent brininess with other flavors in your culinary arsenal.

When preparing to cook with anchovies, consider the form they come in.

Anchovy fillets, whether oil-packed or salted, are the most common and can be easily integrated into recipes.

For a subtler touch, the fillets can be rinsed and soaked to dial back their saltiness without losing their essence.

With anchovies ready to go, their powerful flavor can act as a natural seasoning agent, enhancing your dishes with a complexity that’s hard to replicate with any other ingredient.

Understanding Anchovies

An open can of anchovies sits on a wooden cutting board next to a pile of fresh herbs and a bowl of olive oil. The room is filled with the savory aroma of the salty fish

Anchovies are small, salty fish that deliver a distinct umami flavor to dishes. They are often sold in tins or jars, packed in oil or salt. Your culinary experience may benefit greatly from understanding how to incorporate their robust flavor into your cooking.

Nutritional Analysis: Anchovies are a potent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health, as well as being rich in protein.

Omega-3Supports cardiovascular health
ProteinEssential for body repair and maintenance
Calcium & IronNecessary for strong bones and blood health

Health Benefits: Including anchovies in your diet contributes to a balanced intake of essential nutrients. Beyond omega-3 and protein, anchovies provide other vitamins and minerals essential for maintaining a healthy body.

Using Anchovies: Given their intense flavor, anchovies should be used judiciously.

Melt a few into hot oil to create a rich base for sautéed vegetables, or blend them into salad dressings for added depth.

When stored properly, anchovy paste lasts in the fridge for several months, while salt-packed varieties have a longer shelf life.

Marinating fresh anchovies in vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and herbs can “cook” them lightly, resulting in a tender, flavorful addition to salads or appetizers.

Selecting and Storing Anchovies

When selecting anchovies, you have various types at your disposal, each with specific storage methods to ensure freshness and flavor retention. Knowing these will help maximize the shelf life of your anchovies.

Types of Anchovies

Oil-Packed Anchovies: These are anchovies preserved in oil, commonly olive oil, and are available in jars or tins. They are ready to use and have a milder flavor compared to their salt-packed counterparts.

  • Tinned Oil-Packed Anchovies: Typically found in tins, you can easily store these in your pantry until opened.
  • Jarred Oil-Packed Anchovies: Once open, it’s essential to keep them submerged in oil and refrigerated.

Salt-Packed Anchovies: Preserved in salt, these come in a more robust flavor profile and require preparation, like rinsing, before use.

  • Whole Salt-Packed Anchovies: They are often sold in larger quantities and last longer when kept in a cool, dry pantry.

Storage Tips

Refrigeration: Always store opened anchovies in the fridge.

For oil-packed varieties, ensure they are fully submerged in oil inside an airtight container. This method keeps them flavorful for up to two months.

Freezing: For longer-term storage, you can freeze anchovies.

Place them in a sealed container or bag, removing as much air as possible to avoid freezer burn.

Storage MethodShelf LifeNotes
Pantry (unopened)Varies by dateStore tinned anchovies in a cool place
Fridge (opened)Up to 2 monthsSubmerge in oil, airtight container
FreezerSeveral monthsIn sealed container/bag, air removed

Remember to transition your oil-packed anchovies to the fridge after opening and keep them submerged in oil, typically olive oil, to maintain their taste. Salt-packed should be rinsed before use and can be stored in the pantry until opened; thereafter, they should also be refrigerated or frozen.

Preparing Anchovies for Cooking

Before incorporating anchovies into your dishes, proper preparation is crucial to maximize their flavor and ensure they integrate seamlessly into your recipes.

Cleaning and Filleting

1. Rinse: Begin by rinsing your anchovies under cold water to remove excess brine or oil. Pat them dry with a paper towel.

2. Remove Bones: Gently open the anchovy along its spine and remove the backbone to create two fillets. This can be done by carefully lifting the bones starting from the head end, often intact.

Mashing Anchovies

To mash anchovies:

  • Place the cleaned fillets on a chopping board.
  • Use a fork or the back of a spoon to press down and mash the anchovy fillets into a paste-like consistency.
  • If desired, add a clove of minced garlic to the mixture for an enhanced flavor profile.

Creating Anchovy Paste

Homemade Anchovy Paste:

  • Take the mashed anchovies and transfer them to a mortar and pestle.
  • Add a pinch of salt and grind the mixture together, working it into a smooth, consistent paste.
  • For a richer texture, incorporate a few drops of high-quality olive oil as you blend the mixture.

Incorporating Anchovies into Dishes

Anchovies can elevate the flavor profile of your dishes, from adding umami to sauces and dressings to being the salty highlight in main courses and small bites.

Sauces and Dressings

In sauces and dressings, anchovies are a powerhouse ingredient.

Add finely chopped anchovies to your tomato sauce or pasta sauce recipes to introduce a complex, savory depth. They dissolve effortlessly, enriching the base with their saltiness.

When creating Caesar salad dressing, anchovies are essential for their characteristic briny kick.

  • Example for Pasta Sauce:
    • 2 cloves of minced garlic
    • 4 anchovy fillets
    • 1 tbsp tomato paste
    • 2 cups tomato sauce
    • Cook garlic and anchovies in olive oil until they melt into a rich base, then add tomato paste and sauce.

Main Courses

Incorporate anchovies into your main dishes to complement and enhance your food.

They pair well with robust flavors like those found in Italian cooking.

Melt anchovies into a compound butter and drizzle over seared steak, or stir them into a chili for a surprising flavor twist in your winter meals.

During summer, anchovy fillets can be laid atop pizza before baking to add a punch of umami.

  • Pasta with Anchovies:
    • Start by heating anchovies and garlic in olive oil.
    • Continue with your favorite pasta recipe, letting the rich flavors of the anchovies infuse the dish.

Snacks and Appetizers

When it comes to finger food, anchovies find their way into many snacks and appetizers.

Blend them into a spread and layer on toast for a quick bite, or wrap anchovy fillets around olives or peppers as stuffed appetizers.

  • Anchovy Toast:
    • Top slices of crusty bread with a mixture of anchovies, softened butter, and a hint of garlic.
    • Broil briefly until toasted and the flavors meld.

Anchovies as a Flavor Booster

Soups and Broths

When you add anchovies to soups and broths, they impart a depth of flavor that salt alone cannot achieve. Introduce anchovies into your vegetable or chicken broth to enrich the base with a salty, umami characteristic that complements herbs such as parsley and fennel.

  • Vegetable Broth: Melt anchovies with sautéed onions and carrots before adding water.
  • Chicken Broth: Combine anchovies with chicken bones, lemon juice, and water.

Vegetable Dishes

Enhance the taste of broccoli, kale, and other greens by incorporating anchovies into your cooking. The slight bitterness of these vegetables is balanced by the savory notes of anchovies, providing a complex flavor profile.

  • Broccoli: Sauté with anchovies, garlic, and a splash of olive oil.
  • Tomatoes and Mushrooms: Cook down tomatoes and mushrooms with anchovies for a hearty sauce.

Meat Enhancements

Whether you are preparing lamb, chicken, steak, or pork, a paste or finely chopped anchovies can be the secret ingredient that brings out the meat’s natural flavors without overwhelming it.

  • Lamb: Rub a mixture of anchovies, rosemary, and olive oil on the meat before roasting.
  • Chicken: Stuff the cavity with anchovies and lemon to give a more complex taste to your roast chicken.

Pairing with Proteins and Cheeses

An open cookbook with a recipe for anchovy-stuffed chicken next to a platter of assorted cheeses and cured meats

In the culinary realm, anchovies are a versatile ingredient known for adding depth and savoriness to proteins and cheeses. Below, explore how to elevate your dishes by combining these umami-packed fish with other proteins and cheeses for a harmonious blend of flavors.

Fish and Seafood Combinations

When pairing anchovies with other seafood, aim for balance. Use them to season and enhance without overpowering:

  • Grilled Tuna: Top a steak with a relish of chopped anchovies, capers, and lemon zest.
  • Stuffed Squid: Fill squid tubes with a mixture that includes minced anchovies for added umami.

For a simple anchovy butter, mix the following:

Unsalted Butter1/4 cup
Anchovy Fillets4-5, finely chopped
Garlic Clove1, minced
Parsley1 tbsp, chopped

Use this butter on grilled seafood like shrimp or lobster for a savory twist.

Anchovy-Infused Cheese Recipes

Anchovies can be used to impart a savory note to cheese-based recipes. Select cheeses with compatible flavor profiles:

  • Parmesan: With its nutty and salty characteristics, parmesan benefits from the intensity of anchovies. Blend grated parmesan with minced anchovies for a unique twist on pesto.
  • Pecorino: This sharp, sheep’s milk cheese can be combined with anchovies in pasta fillings or risottos.

Here is a simple pasta idea incorporating both:

Spaghetti8 oz
Anchovy Fillets6-8, finely chopped
Pecorino Cheese1/2 cup, grated
Garlic Clove2, minced
Olive Oil2 tbsp


  1. Cook pasta al dente, and reserve a cup of pasta water.
  2. Sauté garlic and anchovies in olive oil, dissolving anchovies into a sauce.
  3. Mix pasta, anchovy sauce, and half of the pecorino, adding pasta water as needed.
  4. Serve topped with the remaining pecorino.

Anchovies in World Cuisines

Anchovies are a versatile ingredient that integrates seamlessly into various world cuisines, particularly Italian and Mediterranean dishes, as well as in the diverse flavors of Asian cooking.

Italian and Mediterranean Delights

In Italian cuisine, anchovies are a cornerstone, especially in pasta recipes where they add an umami depth that salt alone cannot achieve. Here’s how you can make the most of anchovies in your Mediterranean cooking:


  • Anchovies
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Parsley (preferably fresh)
  • Parmesan
  • Capers
  • Olives

Classic Pasta Puttanesca:

  1. Begin by heating olive oil and sautéing garlic.
  2. Dissolve anchovies into the oil, releasing their savory flavor.
  3. Stir in olives, capers, and a dash of red pepper flakes.
  4. Toss with your pasta and finish with fresh parsley and grated Parmesan.

Note: For a fresh twist, add lemon zest to your pasta for a burst of citrus brightness.

Asian Flavor Twists

Venturing into Asian cuisine, anchovies transform into an entirely different experience. They are essential in Korean dishes, providing a robust flavor foundation.

Staple Ingredients:

  • Dried anchovies
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Fresh parsley

Example – Korean Anchovies Side Dish (Myeolchi-bokkeum):

  1. Lightly toast dried anchovies in a pan.
  2. Add a mixture of soy sauce, a touch of sugar, and sesame oil for a sweet and savory glaze.
  3. Garnish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a handful of chopped fresh parsley.

Tips for a Balanced Anchovy Dish

Anchovies sizzle in a hot pan with garlic and olive oil. A sprinkle of lemon juice adds a zesty kick. A chef's knife chops fresh parsley for a finishing touch

Anchovies add a rich layer of umami and saltiness to dishes. To ensure they enhance without overwhelming, follow these focused tips.

Avoiding Overpowering Flavors

Anchovies pack a potent punch, and their fishy and salty profile can easily dominate a dish if not used judiciously. To prevent an imbalance:

  • Use Sparingly: Start with a small amount of anchovy, as you can always add more if needed.
  • Blend Well: Make sure the anchovies are finely chopped or melted into the dish to distribute their flavor evenly.

Enhancing with Herbs and Spices

The bitterness of greens or the acidity in sauces can be offset with anchovies, creating an intricate flavor profile. To elevate your dish:

  • Citrus and Herbs: Brighten the dish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of fresh parsley to counteract the saltiness.
  • Aromatic Allies: Pair anchovies with olive oil, black pepper, and other herbs like parsley to draw out a pleasing savoriness without excessiveness.

Cooking Anchovies: From Beginner to Pro

Anchovies are a versatile ingredient that can transform your dishes with their umami-rich flavor. Here’s how you can master the art of cooking with anchovies, whether you’re just starting or looking to adopt professional techniques.

Simple Starter Recipes

Your journey into the world of anchovies begins with incorporating them into simple dishes. Start with these beginner-friendly ideas:

  • Caesar Salad: Elevate your salad by adding minced anchovies to the dressing for a punch of flavor.
  • Pasta al Anchovy: Sauté anchovies in olive oil until they dissolve, then toss through pasta with garlic and chili flakes.

Advanced Anchovy Preparations

Once you’re comfortable using anchovies, it’s time to expand your culinary prowess with more sophisticated recipes:

  • For a richer taste, grind anchovies into a paste using the back of a fork. Then blend it into dressings, sauces, or marinades. This smooth incorporation allows the anchovy flavor to meld seamlessly within your dish.
  • Experiment with curing your own anchovies. Properly cured anchovies yield a balanced saltiness and a depth that pre-packaged options might lack. It’s a skill favored by professionals, but with patience, you can achieve it at home.

Cooking with anchovies opens a realm of flavor possibilities. Start with these foundational uses, and you’ll soon be on your way to becoming an anchovy aficionado.

Frequently Asked Questions

An open cookbook with a page titled "Frequently Asked Questions: How to Use Anchovies in Cooking" surrounded by scattered anchovies, herbs, and cooking utensils

In this section, you’ll find answers to common queries about incorporating anchovies into your cooking, ensuring you can confidently use them to enhance your dishes.

What are some classic pasta dishes that incorporate anchovies?

Your pasta can gain an umami depth with anchovies. Classic dishes like Spaghetti alla Puttanesca and Linguine with Anchovy, Walnuts, and breadcrumbs use anchovies for a savory boost.

Can you suggest top anchovy recipes for beginners?

Begin with Anchovy Garlic Bread or an Anchovy Butter to top your steamed vegetables. These recipes are simple yet teach you the balance needed when cooking with anchovies.

What is the best way to prepare anchovies on toast?

Top your toast with a layer of unsalted butter, a few fillets of anchovies, and a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley or chives for a classic, flavorful snack.

Are there any quick and easy anchovy recipes I should know about?

Try whisking anchovies into a Caesar dressing or blending them into a tapenade for an appetizer. These recipes are quick and highlight the anchovy’s ability to enhance other flavors.

How can I creatively use canned anchovies in my cooking?

Mash them into a savory sauce for a roast or blend them into salad dressing. Canned anchovies are versatile and can be used to infuse depth into many dishes.

What are some Mediterranean dishes that feature anchovies prominently?

Anchovy-stuffed olives and Salad Nicoise are quintessential Mediterranean dishes that showcase the distinct flavor of anchovies.

They pair well with the fresh ingredients characteristic of Mediterranean cuisine.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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