When hearing the word “anchovy” we often think of that sad grey thing on pizzas and disliked by so many people. Cantabrian anchovies are vastly different and in fact, are a delicacy enjoyed all over Spain and known as some of the best in the World. There is no doubt that the Spanish love their fresh fish, which features on restaurant and household tables daily, directly from the sea and as unprocessed as possible. In a country which shores include the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, canned fish and seafood enjoy a cult status. Whether they come in cans or jars, canned products are not seen as culinary barbarism in Spain, they are quite the opposite.
Anchovies are caught wild and during a short season, from March or April and peaking during the summer. Anchovies pass through the Bay of Biscay in the early fall on their way to Norway and return in the spring well nourished and with a subsequent cushion of fat, this is when the Cantabrian fishermen start to fish for anchovies. Galicia, the region with the greatest volume of production, takes first place for canned fish and seafood. However, Cantabria in the Basque country and the Atlantic province of Andalucía are also renowned for their outstanding quality of products. The centres for the Cantabrian fish-canning industry are the coastal towns of Santoña, Laredo and Colindres, which have specialized in producing first-class canned anchovies for centuries.
When each catch comes in, the fish are immediately graded by size and selected for salting, pickling or selling fresh accordingly. The heads and intestines are first removed from the anchovies, and they are layered in wooden barrels for three to six months. They are then rinsed, dried and divided into two fillets by hand. They are then packed in cans with the addition of olive oil or sunflower oil. Due to the care in the way they have been canned, they never taste overly salty or metallic like mass produced anchovies have.
As with most delicacies, they are best eaten without too many other distracting ingredients, they are such morsels that they do not need any dressing up. Spanish Pig recommends eating them as simply as possible, perhaps laid out on some pan con tomate or on thin slices of toast. We do however understand that some people may find that intimidating initially so perhaps add them to a salad with crispy lettuce, anchovies, eggs and croutons.