White anchovies and canned anchovies are both anchovies, but the similarities stop there. Good news for people (like me!) who aren’t enthusiasts of canned variety is that the strong taste associated with canned anchovies is not actually the flavor of the fish. The bold taste and dark-grey color of canned anchovies can be attributed to the curing process, where the fish are preserved in a salt-brine and then packed in oil or salt. But there’s more than one way to cure a fish… Cue the Spaniards…
White anchovies, or Boquerones as they’re known as in Southern Spain, are cured in white vinegar or a vinegar/oil solution (no salt!) for a few hours. The acid in the vinegar reacts with the protein in the fish to give it the texture and appearance of being cooked – turning the flesh of the fish white. After soaking, the fillets are rinsed and packaged in olive oil with other seasonings, such as garlic or parsley.
In the end, you’re left with anchovies that are mild, bright with a vinegar, and naturally balanced with salt. These little guys have enough personality to stand on their own, so there is no need to hide them in a complicated dish. They’re served best as part of a pick plate with ripe tomatoes, mild Italian cheese, and a fresh baguette. Also…beer. Since you already have acidity in the anchovies, they pair better with beer than wine. They go particularly well with a lager.
If there is a down-side to these delightful treats, it’s cost and availability A 7.5 oz package will run you around $10. But honestly, they’re worth every penny. Although they’re becoming more popular, they can still be difficult to find. Locally, I pick mine up at Capone Foods in Union Square, or Wine & Cheese Cask on the corner of Beacon St & Washington St outside of Inman Square.