I had two recipe successes at the beach, and this is the other one. I live with a bloke whose idea of bliss is standing thigh deep in ocean on an overcast day using all the sensory skills of a hunter. We were at a good fishing beach, there was a nice east coast low making perfect conditions, he spent many hours at it. And still, we ended up at the fishmonger.
There is an odd contradiction in buying fish because you can’t catch any. It makes “sustainable” species a very clear and present idea. I stood there wondering what to get and feeling very conflicted. Then the person in front of me bought a $3, 500 gram packet of little fish.
“What are you planning to do with them?”
“Just flour them and fry them and eat them whole, with a cold beer. They’re wonderful”.
I had no idea what they were but working on the principle that small fish are lower down the food chain and less threatened than larger fish, I took a punt.
“I”ll have what he had. What are they?”
OK, so I’d never had anchovies before any way except out of a tin. But I followed the directions and they were, as promised, wonderful. Tossed in flour with a little salt and pepper, deep fried in small batches in a pot of light olive oil for just a couple of minutes, eaten whole. I did make up a bit of a dipping sauce with lemon juice, garlic, a little bit of chili, finely chopped onion and finely chopped parsley. And we had a good debate about whether they were better with the head or without.
When I got home I looked them up on Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide from Australian Marine Conservation Society, and the banner image is anchovies. About as sustainable as you get. Spanish tapas recipes take the head off and butterfly them removing the gut, and this wouldn’t be hard to do, but with the little ones we had (about 3 inches or 75 mm long) it’s hardly necessary. Anchovies are up there with sardines as a source of omega 3s and no risk of mercury like the larger predator fish, and omega 3s are important for a whole range of health benefits from cardiovascular to mental health. And $6 a kilo. A new favourite.