Whilst on your travels in Spain and pausing to take a breath from site-seeing, you have surely experimented with “tapas” at a welcoming bar.
If this is the case, it is more than likely that you have come across the small, tasty filleted fish, preserved in olive oil, sliced garlic and chopped parsley, and highly popular throughout Spain. This delectable dish is usually known as “boquerones” but, depending on the area, can also be called “anchoas”.
Boquerones are small, fresh anchovies. Accompanied by crisp, fresh Spanish bread, a glass of ruby-red wine or refreshing Asturian cider, they are a delight to eat. Moreover – as with many traditional Spanish dishes which comprise the renowned Mediterranean Diet – they are extremely healthy.
Like its friend the sardine, the anchovy is an oily fish, packed full of proteins and minerals, protecting against heart disease, and “good” for cholesterol. What´s more, in many areas of Spain -in particular the Mediterranean coast – fresh anchovies are extremely cheap.
On first coming to Spain, I happily enjoyed many tapas of boquerones, completely unaware of one fact … all those little anchovies I had eaten were not cooked! For a moment, I deeply regretted asking my Spanish neighbor, Carmen, how to make them!
Fortunately, Carmen went into immediate action and saved the day! She frog-marched me to the local fishmongers, bought a kilo of the little fish, took me home and showed me “her way” of preparing them. They were so delicious that I quickly recovered my passion for boquerones and have been enjoying them ever since!
Methods for preparing boquerones tend to vary slightly from family to family. However, the basic principles are always the same. You first have to clean and fillet the fish, which is simple enough, but rather tedious until you get the hang of it.
Next, you soak the fillets, either in white wine vinegar or a mixture of half vinegar and half water. The vinegar will clean and bleach the fish and also soften any remaining little bones. Some people sprinkle the fish with salt; others (myself included) feel that the fish is salty enough already.
The fish has to be left for a good few hours soaking in the vinegar. Again, this tends to vary, with some Spaniards leaving them overnight in the fridge and others just waiting a couple of hours. Also, some families change the vinegar/water-and-vinegar mixture once during this process, whilst others don´t bother.
Once you have thrown away the vinegar, the bleached fillets are covered with a good quality virgin olive oil, which will preserve them. You can add as much, or as little, sliced garlic as you wish, plus freshly chopped parsley.
So … here is the actual recipe.
– 1 kilo fresh anchovies.
– White wine vinegar.
– Virgin olive oil.
– Salt (optional).
1. Top and tail anchovies.
2. Slit along underside and discard innards.
3. Open out fish.
4. Remove central bone by lifting from tail end upwards.
5. Rinse well.
6. Place a layer of anchovy fillets in a shallow dish.
7. Sprinkle with salt (optional) and pour on plenty of vinegar.
8. Repeat with another layer, changing direction.
9. Leave to soak in vinegar for a few hours or overnight.
10. Pour off vinegar.
11. Very gently rinse fillets.
12. Cover fillets in virgin olive oil.
13. Add slices of garlic and chopped parsley.
It is so pleasant to find something in life that is a delight to the senses, affordable, healthy and does nobody any harm (apologies to any vegetarians out there and, also, the little anchovies …). So … do make the most of fresh anchovies whilst you are in Spain and enjoy!