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What is Anchovy Paste?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Anchovy paste is a paste made from ground anchovy fillets. It is readily available in many grocery and specialty stores, usually in the form of small tubes. Since this condiment is highly concentrated, it can be used in small amounts to create an immense impact. It has a very distinctive salty, fishy flavor with a hint of sweetness from added sugar, and can be used in soups, sauces, and on sandwiches. Some recipes specifically call for anchovy paste, especially recipes from Southern Europe.

Anchovies are small silvery fishes in the Engraulidae family, related to herring. They are native to the Mediterranean, and have been used as a food fish for centuries. The fish are well known for gathering in giant schools which may contain hundreds of individuals. After being caught, anchovies are sold fresh or preserved. Preserved anchovies are often canned with oil, and they are used extensively in cuisines throughout Southern Europe.

When anchovy paste is manufactured, the filleted and cured fish are ground into an evenly textured paste. The curing process is what creates the distinctive intense anchovy flavor, and it ensures that the paste will be shelf stable for a long period of time. When kept in a cool dry place, this condiment can last for years, although it does need to be refrigerated and used once it has been opened. It is also an ingredient in many sauces, such as Worcestershire sauce.

Typically, the fillets are blended with vinegar, assorted spices, and a small amount of sugar to counteract their salty flavor. The blend used varies from country to country, with some nations making sweeter versions of anchovy paste than others. When a recipe calls for anchovy paste and none is available, cooks can mash canned anchovies or use another fish paste to mimic the flavor. Many soup stocks and sauces benefit from the addition of a small amount of this material, and it can also be used in Asian cuisine.

Since the paste varies in quality and flavor, cooks should always taste a small amount before adding it to food. In addition, cooks who are not used to working with the ingredient should add it in moderation, since the flavor can be overwhelming for people who are not familiar with it. Higher quality anchovy paste tends to be slightly more expensive, but the extra cost can be well worth it, as cheap or poorly cured anchovies can ruin a dish.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GlassAxe — On Jun 01, 2011

For those who do not like the strong fishy taste of anchovies, one could always use white anchovies as a substitute. These delicate anchovies are much milder in taste, but still contain the same fat and flakiness of anchovies. They are also much less salty than regular anchovies.

White anchovies are great if served on a little platter with sliced caper berries, thinly sliced Manchego cheese, toast points. They are also very tasty tossed with a Caesar salad.

By rugbygirl — On Jun 01, 2011

@dfoster85 - I'm not a big fan of them, either, but I find I don't mind them in salad as much as on pizza (as long as they're not overdone). You can use either anchovy paste, which is probably easier, or flat anchovies.

If you really need an anchovy paste substitute, maybe for a vegetarian guest, some people like to use kalamata olives or capers. Good luck--hope you salad comes out great!

By dfoster85 — On Jun 01, 2011

Do I need to buy anchovy paste to make a caesar salad? I know it has anchovies in it, but I'm not clear on what kind it takes or if there's something else I can use instead. I hate anchovies on my pizza!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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