Anchovies are tiny fish from the waters of southern Europe. Though they can be eaten fresh, they're generally filleted, cured and packed in oil or salt. Along with olive oil and garlic, they are one of the essential elements of Mediterranean cuisine. Straight from the jar or can, they are briny and assertive, but when they're cooked and combined with other ingredients, anchovies fortify the taste of other foods without dominating them and will even "melt" away when heated. Used this way, they play a role more akin to aromatic vegetables in a soup. Even people who don't think they like anchovies are surprised to discover how much better many of their favorite recipes are when a little anchovy is added to the mix.
5 anchovy fillets = about 1 oz.
Anchovy paste can make an acceptable substitute for anchovies (use ½ tsp. for every anchovy called for). A few drops of Asian fish sauce (which is made from fermented anchovies) added to a dressing (like Caesar) can add a similar flavor.
Salt-packed anchovies have the truest flavor of all oil-cured anchovies. Jars of oil-packed anchovies are also good and have a more mellow flavor. Canned oil-packed anchovies are generally inferior.
When shopping for them, choose a brand that’s packed in olive oil (not vegetable oil), and preferably in jars, which allow you to see the size of the fillets and can be easily resealed.
Soak anchovies in cold water for 20 minutes (change the water twice) before using to temper their saltiness.
Tinned anchovies have to be transferred to another container after opening; cover them with additional olive oil if necessary. Although anchovies keep indefinitely in the refrigerator, we recommend using them within two weeks of opening, since after that their flavor becomes very pungent.