Anchovies tend to get a bad rep in the US, they are associated mainly with salted anchovies packed in oil and served on pizza. That was at least my first impression of them and thought that my father would order them on a pizza only to gross my sister and I out. I didn’t realize how delicious they were both packed in oil and it didn’t it even dawn on me that you could eat them fresh. My very American sensibilities, I know, tuna came in a can and anchovies were gross oily fishies.
In the same way that I overcame most of my food taboos, I discovered the how delicious anchovies were while living in Italy. Fried anchovies are common all over Italy, you can find them in any mixed fry and more often they are served on their own. The Italians have two words for anchovies, alici for fresh anchovies and acciughe for the salted ones, I guess in some ways it helps to distinguish the fresh from the cured, though it did create a bit of confusion for me initially.
When we visited my husband’s aunt and uncle in Naples a few weeks ago his uncle prepared a huge platter of fried anchovies as the second course of our meal. They were wonderfully fresh and delicious, though it was interesting that he prepared them differently from my mother-in-law who is his older sister. She unfolds the anchovies and lays them flat like an open book, and her brother cleans them but leaves their bodies whole when he fries them. They both use the same simple ingredients, flour and oil for frying, though my mother-in-law has also made them in the Sicilian way with breadcrumbs and flour, making them a bit crunchier.
- 2 lbs of fresh anchovies
- 2 cups of flour
- 4-5 cups of vegetable oil (you could use olive oil, but it is an unnecessary expense)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- salt and pepper to taste
Ask your fishmonger to clean your anchovies and to cut their heads off, you can either open them up to fry them or fry them in their whole body form.
In large bowl, mix flour and a pinch of salt together. In 4-quart deep, heavy pot over high heat, heat 2 inches oil until it sizzles when you put the corner of a piece of bread or sprinkle some flour in it.
Dredge a hand-full of anchovies in flour mixture, tossing to coat well. Transfer to sieve and shake to remove excess flour. Fry, stirring frequently to separate, until golden, about 3 minutes, then transfer with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. While they are draining sprinkle salt on the fried anchovies.
Repeat with remaining anchovies, making sure that the oil’s heat stays hot between batches. You may need to change the oil or add more while you are frying, so be sure to have a lot at hand.
Serve immediately with lemon wedges.