Deep-fried anchovies

Deep-fried anchovies

Alici dorate

4 as an antipasto or a snack
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

The best fish shop in Porto Ercole, Da Ledo, is run by Elisa Costagliola, a Sally Field lookalike whose family fishing boat brings its catch right up to the port every evening. The seafood is so fresh that it’s often still moving. There are crates of scampi and huge mazzancolle – caramote prawns (shrimp), quite similar to tiger prawns – piles of small fish for ‘soup’ or frying, glistening vermillion-splattered triglie (red mullet), funny-faced four-spot megrim and the aptly named pesce sciabola (silver scabbardfish), with its long, smooth, sword-like body, wrapped around itself. And there are, of course, anchovies – the fleshiest, freshest, firmest, bright-eyed, silvery anchovies I have ever seen.

Once, when I asked Elisa to describe some of the most typical seafood preparations, she didn’t hesitate: Alici dorate, ‘golden anchovies’. They’re a speciality of Porto Ercole and possibly one of my favourite things, ever.

You can always ask your fishmonger to clean anchovies for you, but in Porto Ercole, a fishing village, everyone does it themselves. Once you get into the rhythm of it, it’s quite therapeutic, I think.


Quantity Ingredient
500-600g fresh, whole anchovies
2-3 tablespoons plain flour, for dusting
1 egg, chilled
vegetable oil, for frying


  1. Prepare the anchovies as described in the notes and put them on a plate.
  2. Spread the flour in a shallow bowl. Beat the egg in a separate shallow bowl with a pinch of salt and place in the fridge until needed. Dredge the butterflied anchovies in the flour, coating well and evenly. Shake off the excess flour and place on a wire rack until all the anchovies are coated in flour.
  3. On one side of the stove top, prepare a wire rack with a few layers of paper towel for draining the oil off the cooked anchovies. Place the plate of chilled egg on the other side of the stove top. Put a medium saucepan over medium–high heat with enough vegetable oil so that the anchovies can float – at least 3 cm deep. It’s time to cook when the oil reaches about 170°C – see ‘Tips for a good fry’. Begin frying in batches – depending on the size of the pan and the size of the anchovies, I like to fry about 4–6 at a time.
  4. Dip the floured anchovies into the chilled egg to coat, let the excess egg drip off momentarily, then place in the hot oil. Fry until the outside is crisp and golden and the inside cooked, about 2 minutes (if particularly small, it’ll only take 90 seconds). If they are browning and darkening too quickly, turn the heat down slightly.
  5. Remove from the oil and drain on the prepared paper towel. Sprinkle with salt.
  6. Ideally, you want to serve these piping hot, so try to serve them as you fry. Or you can keep the fried anchovies warm, uncovered, in a low oven until you have finished frying them all.

How to clean fresh anchovies

  • Note that very fresh anchovies have firmer flesh, which means that pulling away the spine is harder to do than when they are a couple of days old and seem much more relaxed. But older anchovies also are more delicate to handle as the flesh literally falls away. For the purpose of frying them, use the freshest anchovies you can find as they hold their shape better.

    Set up a work space: I like to have a firm chopping board next to a clean kitchen sink (quite a bit of splashing goes on) with a plate or tray lined with paper towel for the cleaned anchovies. You could arm yourself with a small knife if you want to, but I find hands are the very best tool. Maybe you can have a pair of sharp kitchen scissors at the ready if you want to cut off the dorsal fin (as I do). I always like to keep the tails on.

    Snap off the head from the bottom up towards the spinal cord. Run the nail of your thumb lengthwise along the belly to open and simultaneously remove the guts, which should come away easily. Running water from the sink can be handy to wash this away, though it’s not entirely necessary as you can rinse the fish later.

    Continue running the nail of your thumb down the whole length of the body of the fish to split it in two, lengthways, and open it like a book. You should now see the spinal cord exposed. Pull it out, starting from the head side and snap it off at the tail. Once you get the hang of this, you can do all of this in one swift motion – and head, spine and entrails all come out in a clean, easy sweep.

    Give it a quick rinse under the tap and place on the paper towel to drain.
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