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  • Writer's pictureLydia Gerratt

Pan fried fresh anchovy fillets

Pan fried fresh anchovy fillets

This is the one dish I crave whenever I go on holiday to Italy or Spain as it’s so easy to find heaps of local fresh anchovies in all the fish markets. When they are fresh they taste nothing like the preserved tins of anchovies, instead they have that very satisfying fresh fish flavour; clean and extra more-ish when fried to a light crispness.

I watched my Italian friend from Liguria, Patrizia (the one who has taught me so many true Italian recipes) make these anchovies for her niece years ago. Carolina was only 2 years old at the time and I couldn’t believe how many of these little fish she ate, I was so impressed. Now that I have my own little boys, I make these crispy little fish for them and tell them that they are Italian fish fingers.

Pan fried fresh anchovy fillets

Miraculous ingredient: fresh whole anchovies

Pan fried fresh anchovy fillets


500g fresh whole anchovies

100g plain flour

Extra virgin oliveoil

Coarse sea salt to season


Prepare the anchovies first. Rinse the anchovies in cold water and place in a colander.

Take an anchovy and hold it your hand with the belly facing up. Use a very sharp knife to cut down the length of the anchovy from the head all the way down to the tail. Cut lightly, the knife should only just pierce the skin. Use both your thumbs to pull the flesh away from the long central bone running down the middle of the fish and pull the central bone out. The flesh is very soft so you should be able to gently pull the bone out in one long piece. At the same time pull the head and tail off at either end while they are still attached to the central bone. Now you have 2 boneless fillets attached to each other. Turn the anchovy fillets over to skin side up and remove the tiny bony fin in the middle of the 2 fillets – the fin is easy to pull out as the fillets are so soft.

Dust each fillet with flour on both sides, shake off any excess and lay carefully in a plate ready for frying. Repeat these steps until all the anchovies have been filleted and dusted with flour.

Place a medium size frying pan onto a high heat to warm through, approx. 5 minutes. Get a large plate lined with kitchen paper ready and place it next to your cooker. Add a good amount of olive oil to the frying pan; it should be about 2-3cms deep. Give the oil a minute to heat up.

Take an anchovy and dangle the end of the fillet into the oil. If it sizzles like crazy then the oil is hot enough. Carefully slide the anchovy fillets into the pan, skin side down. Do not over crowd the pan as it will cause the temperature of the oil to drop and the fish will boil rather than fry.

Fry the anchovies for 1 minute – you won’t need to flip them over as they are so small the oil will cover them and fry both sides at the same time. Lift the anchovies from the pan with a slotted or wire spoon and place on the kitchen paper lined plate. Repeat until all the anchovies are fried. Season with coarse sea salt.

Preparation time 20 minutes, cooking 10 minutes, serves 4

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