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Anchovies - Nourishing Us Through What Ails Us

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

My friend Jay has been feeling sad – understandably so. He is a doctor who specializes in viruses and has had quite a roller coaster ride during the pandemic. As California reopens, his sadness could be a letting go of the past year, mourning of all that took place so we can move on to a new world - one where we acknowledge our vulnerability in the power of nature.

I took him anchovies from the San Francisco Bay that I had preserved with salt and lemon and then packed in olive oil with a note – “These aren’t to cheer you up, but to nourish you through your sadness.”

As long as there are anchovies swimming in our bay and along our coastline, I feel like the future has the potential to be bright, celebratory even.

Anchovies nourish our entire ecosystem. Right now massive schools are running along the California Coast. Look to the ocean or the San Francisco Bay and you can see pods of dolphins, rafts of sea lions, whales breaching, birds diving -- it’s a silver scaled smorgasbord for sea creatures. A fisherman friend even reported seeing a Great White Shark jump from the water in all her toothy glory. She most likely wasn’t snacking on anchovies, but those who ate them.

Humans don’t join in on this bounty as much as we should. These small fish are super sustainable, low in toxins, and high in protein and omega-3s. They're lot of work to clean, but well worth the effort.

You can go out and try to jig for them with a series of small hooks, known as a sabaki rig, or go buy them from the live bait shed behind Scoma's in San Francisco. They close at 9am on weekdays and 10am on weekends. Bring a cooler and $30 cash for a large scoop.

Step 1: Cut Off Heads & and Remove Guts

There is some controversy surrounding the cleaning of anchovies. You might want to try a few different approaches and see what works best for you. Some people scrape off the scale first. I used to, but I've stopped doing that and haven't noticed much of a difference.

I cut off the tail and the head, then slit open the belly and clean out the guts. However, some people claim to snap off the head, pulling the guts and spine off with it.

Step 2: Remove the Spine

This is simple, but seems to be the difference between the process going quickly or slowly. I've found that super-fresh fish are harder to work with and the spine seems more attached to the flesh. Leaving these in the fridge overnight helps the spine come out more smoothly.

Step 3: Salt Fillets

First, you'll salt the fillets. If you want to go with the light, lemon version, just put a light layer of salt over them. For boquerone style, layer the fillets in salt and slivers of garlic.

You can also just salt the anchovies, and then put them in a jar and use them later.

Step 4: Add Vinegar or Acid

If you are making the lemon anchovies, squeeze fresh lemon over them until they are completely covered, then put in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

If you are making boquerones, let the anchovies sit in the salt for 20 minutes, then cover them with white wine vinegar. Put them in the fridge overnight.

In the picture above they are used on crostini with burrata and squash blossoms.

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