Anchovies are embedded in popular culture as a very ‘fishy’ smelling and tasting substance that’s sneered at as a pizza topping, tolerated in tapenades and go unnoticed as a flavour base in many sauces. The anchovies you’re familiar with are probably the tinned version packed in brine. While this type of preservation process intensifies the taste of anchovies and sometimes can be unpalatable, the dry-salted anchovies known and enjoyed throughout Southeast and South Asia, Japan and Oceania are much milder in flavour and lighter in texture. When cooked with aromatic spices and fresh ingredients, there’s hardly a ‘fish’ taste at all!
It makes for a delicious, protein-rich meal that’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids. You can find dry-salted anchovies at most Asian supermarkets. This version is from Sri Lanka and is one of the tastiest ways to enjoy the nutritional profile of anchovies without all the fuss. Let’s get started.
Anchovies Sautéed in Chili-Garlic Sauce – Recipe
- 6 dry red chilies, stems discarded, torn and soaked in warm water for 15 minutes (reserve 2 Tbsp. of the chili water for sauce)
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. canola oil
- ½ red onion, chopped
- Few curry leaves
- ½ tsp. fenugreek seeds
- 3 cups of dry anchovies (or one small 200g bag), soaked in water for 20 minutes, removed and patted dry*
- 1 plum tomato, chopped
- Salt, to taste (optional)
- 1 Tbsp. tamarind pulp, soaked in 2 Tbsp. water, seeds discarded
*Soaking anchovies in water serves two purposes. One, it helps rehydrate them a little bit, which makes them softer and faster to cook. Secondly, it eliminates most of the salt content, reducing your intake of sodium.
- In a blender or food processor blend the soaked dried red chilies, garlic and chili water into a smooth, thick sauce. Set aside.
- In a large, heavy bottom non-stick pan, heat oil on medium. Add onions, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds and sauté until onions are slightly golden.
- Turn up the heat; add anchovies and chili-garlic sauce and sauté for 2- 3 minutes. Turn down the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.
- Turn up the heat to medium; add tomatoes and sauté for 1 minute. Test for seasoning and add salt if you desire.
- Add tamarind pulp and stir to combine well. Turn up heat to medium-high and sauté for 2 – 3 minutes. Turn off heat and dish out.
Serve sautéed anchovies in chili-garlic sauce garnished with curry leaves with a side of roti or cooked rice. This is a pleasantly aromatic, flavourful and nutritious dish that requires only a few ingredients to make. You’ll be surprised at how different this tastes in comparison to brine packed anchovies. The roti or rice will help cut the spiciness, but if you’re still working up a sweat eating this, serve with a cooling coriander chutney as well.