The magic of the Mediterranean in anchovy specialties

With a fullness of flavour and a scent of the sea and algae, the anchovy stands out particularly in the summer months, when it is usually caught using purse seines. Along with other fish specialties, it is most desired in the summer months, when we all need light, tasty food. If your nearest coast is miles away, the fish markets of continental Croatia are well-supplied with fresh caught fish. Price-wise, the anchovies are also quite affordable, so there is really no excuse not to put this fish specialty on your weekly menu.

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The anchovies are a family of small salt-water forage blue fish, caught in almost all oceans of the world, but the best quality ones are from the Mediterranean. Looking for anchovies, they are often mistaken for sardines, which are slightly bigger fish, but the anchovies have a thinner pointy head with set out eyes. They usually grow 10 to 12 centimetres and, like other blue fish, they are extremely rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B-complex vitamins and high quality protein.

Fresh anchovies are very easily cleaned and filleted. As it is a small fish, you can clean the insides by hand, since there aren't many, pull the head down and remove it. If you were planning on filleting it, it is enough to remove the central bone, which can be done in one move, by catching it by the tail and pulling up.

For the preparation of anchovies, all classical Mediterranean ingredients are welcome, such as olive oil, lemon, capers, olives and spices such as parsley, mint and others. You can prepare them for a number of meals, from main courses to very attractive appetizers, anchovies can be fried, grilled, marinated and used for a marinade or an addition to other dishes. In the fishing village of Tribunj, near Šibenik, in a small family-owned tavern called Bepo, they make a traditional marinade, and the owner Josip Jerkov has described the preparation process to us.

- First we fillet the anchovies, salt them and put them in homemade vinegar. When the anchovy meat becomes lighter in colour, we put it in oil, to preserve it for as long as possible. Marinated anchovies are served as an addition to various dishes, and we use them in salads, especially tuna salad. Anchovies are also served as the specialty of the house, as part of our cold seafood platter, which is prepared by serving a base of rocket, with smoked tuna, angler carpaccio, marinated prawns and anchovies and octopus carpaccio on top, with olive oil, capers, some lemon and motar (sea fennel) on the side – the owner Josip says.

You can make nice light sandwiches or salads with marinated anchovies, they can be a great addition to pizzas, and they make a perfect blend with salty cheeses, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and chilli peppers. Anchovies add a tasty flavour to summer vegetable casseroles with cauliflower, broccoli or zucchini that you can fill with anchovies, capers and olives, or simply marinate them. When using anchovies for the preparation of dishes, it is enough to salt them a little bit, because the saltiness of anchovies will add to that natural Mediterranean saltiness that will enrich the dish with its special authentic flavour. You can also make spreads from anchovies, marinate meat such as lamb or fish, like tuna or salmon fillets, and the anchovies are the essential part of the preparation of beef Tartare or steak Tartare. In Barun restaurant in Šibenik, where the main specialties are prepared with fish and seafood, the chef, Viktorija Vukšić has revealed to us how steak Tartare is made.

- We put meat, onions, garlic, Tabasco sauce, anchovies and green cucumbers. First we grate it all by hand, from meat to other ingredients, then we beat it with a fork to let the flavours soak in. After it all sits and cools off a bit, we shape the steak Tartare in a little ball that is served on a lettuce leaf, we chop up some onions, used as a decoration, then we serve the black and green olives, and on top of the ball, we add a leaf of basil for decoration – Viktorija tells us.

There is a well-known tavern (konoba) Batelina, located in a small town of Banjole in Istria, near Pula, where the chef de cuisine David Skoko prepares very creative and interesting specialties from the daily catch every night. But, what does he like to prepare with the anchovies?

In Batelina, we make marinades from anchovies, in homemade vinegar, chips from anchovy bones, fried anchovies, breadcrumb coated anchovies and various anchovy pastas. The offer keeps changing, so we always try to add something new – Skoko adds.

If you have decided to make anchovies, don't forget to enjoy some good wine along with them.

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