Anchovies are a family (Engraulidae) of small, common salt-water forage fish.
Range & Habitat: There are 144 species in 17 genera, found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Similar to herring, they run in large schools near the surface. While anchovies move along the shore and offshore, they do not migrate extensively.
Identification & Biology: Anchovies are a small, shiny, silver fish of the Anchoa (North America) or Engraulis (Mediterranean and European) family. Anchovies can reach 4 inches in length in their first year, but typically only grow to approximately 8 inches in total length. Because they are small, anchovies are often confused with sardines (Sardinella anchovia). In some areas, the terms anchovy and sardine are used interchangeably. The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, two fish anchovies closely resemble in other respects.
Market Description: Anchovies are typically deemed an oily fish. They are high in calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, and selenium, but they are also high in cholesterol. The miniscule scales are virtually non-existent and the skin is perfectly edible. Anchovies are native to the Mediterranean and thus very popular in the local cuisine.
When preserved by being gutted and salted in brine, matured, and then packed in oil or salt, they acquire a characteristic strong flavor. In Roman times, they were the base for the fermented fish sauce called garum that was a staple of cuisine and an item of long-distance commerce produced in industrial quantities, and were also consumed raw as an aphrodisiac.
For domestic use, anchovy fillets are packed in oil or salt in small tins or jars, sometimes rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also available.
The strong taste people associate with anchovies is due to the curing process. Fresh anchovies, known in Italy as alici, have a much milder flavor. In Sweden and Finland, the name anchovies is related strongly to a traditional seasoning, hence the product "anchovies" is normally made of sprats and also herring can be sold as "anchovy-spiced", leading to confusion when translating recipes.
Recommended Preparation: Many, many recipes use anchovies for a punch of flavor where the anchovies are neither recognizable visually nor by the taste buds. Anchovies are often that secret ingredient that you just can't put your finger on, the one that really makes the recipe pop.
Today they are used in small quantities to flavor many dishes. Because of the strong flavor, they are also an ingredient in several sauces, including Worcestershire sauce, remoulade and many fish sauces, and in some versions of Café de Paris butter.