Anchovy season in San Francisco is fleeting, lasting just a few weeks in midsummer. Each year, we look forward to it with unbridled excitement. The little fish—as we lovingly refer to the fish breeds including sardines, anchovy, night smelt, etc.—are underappreciated for all that they offer. They are a rich source of important micronutrients including minerals, proteins, and oils. Because the smaller fish are low in the food chain, they are low in the toxic heavy metals that many larger fish species have. Additionally, most of these fish are abundant in supply and aren’t in danger of depletion.
When fresh anchovies hit our menus, I am always inundated with proclamations like, “These are nothing like the anchovies of my childhood!” Anchovies have a bad reputation carried over from the old days of the canned incarnation, pungent and overpoweringly fishy in smell and flavor. It’s no wonder these fish are no longer a staple in the American diet. But fresh anchovies directly out of live ocean pens in the San Francisco Bay are a different experience. Delicate and mild, they taste like a fresh burst of ocean breeze. My favorite way to eat them is lightly cured in an oil and vinegar solution. The fish are small, making butterflying and deboning them an exercise in finesse, but cured anchovies are certainly worth the trouble.
Shaved Summer Squash and Pea Salad with Cured Anchovy
There is an amazing moment that happens late in May and early in June, where Sonoma County straddles the spring and summer season. It’s in this moment that fresh anchovies from San Francisco become available in tandem with the first tender summer squash and the last sweet peas of the passing season. My favorite way to enjoy this squash is very thinly shaved and tossed in a bright acidic vinaigrette. This preparation highlights a soft yet crunchy texture and subtle flavor. I typically add my favorite summer herbs to the vinaigrette like savory, mint, dill, and chives. It pairs well with the mild cured anchovy making for a perfect warm weather starter or appetizer.
1 lb. fresh anchovies (the fresher, the better)
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
Peel of one lemon
Peel of one orange
1 tsp. toasted coriander seed
1 tsp. toasted fennel seed
2 tsp. salt
Clean anchovies by removing head and entrails, then gently run thumb along the belly of the fish until spine is exposed. Continue to run thumb along both sides of spine, gently separately the flesh from bone. Separate spine at the tail end of fish and rinse flesh in cold fresh water. Place cleaned fish in shallow container or bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, then pour over fish, gently mixing the anchovies to ensure even curing. The anchovies are ready to enjoy when the flesh lights up and becomes firm, about 30 minutes.