Andalucia’s silver darlings: the joy of the anchovy



Andalucía’s silver darlings: the joy of the anchovy

Originally from Aberdeenshire, I moved to the tiny hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera in the south-west corner of Andalucía almost 15 years ago. What enticed me to settle here (apart from the sunny climate and miles of deserted sandy beaches) was the fantastic food and produce the area offers. With my cookery school and culinary holidays to run, it was an inspiring and delicious place to be based.

Situated on the beautiful Atlantic coastline of the Costa de la Luz, the markets are full of fabulous fish. Among the most popular and plentiful of the local fish are the glistening boquerones (anchovies) which abound in the ocean and are landed every day by fishermen in the ports of Barbate, Conil and Tarifa.

I grew up thinking of anchovies as the intensely salty brown slivers found only on top of pizzas, but a whole new world of anchovy love greeted me when I came here and discovered just why the Spanish are so fond of this tiny fish. Part of the same family as sardines, herring and mackerel, they are healthy as well as delicious, and bursting with essential Omega-3 fatty acids.

Enjoyed in many ways, each with a different name - boquerones when fresh, boquerones en vinagre when pickled, boquerones fritos when fried whole (think whitebait). When preserved in salt and olive oil, they are called anchoas - these are the closest to the pizza topping I knew, but plump and with an umami-richness rather than the mouth-puckering saltiness I remembered. One of my favourite ways of eating an anchoa is on top of a wedge of our local hard goat’s cheese, with a glass of Fino in hand of course!

Many of my daily cooking classes begin with a trip to the local market, and we often snap up a pile of ultra-fresh boquerones. These glistening fish are a beautiful silver colour, with bright eyes, and so recently-caught that they are still stiff to touch. People often come to my classes steadfast in their refusal to touch an anchovy, never mind learning how to gut and clean it, but I break them in by lightly frying the fillets of one they have just gutted and it’s love at first bite.

Super-fresh anchovies are a treat, but they don’t stay fresh for long so the Spanish have become masters of preserving, enjoying them all year round. Herpac (a specialist fish processing company) in the nearby town of Barbate is a master at this art. Part of my fish cooking class includes a visit to the Herpac shop - packed with all kinds of preserved fish from mojama (air-dried tuna) to anchoas and their fabulous boquerones en vinagre. These are the most perfect tapa when matched with a cold beer or a glass of chilled Fino or Manzanilla sherry, and one of my favourite ways of serving is as a Gilda - a truly sensational mouthful of spicy, tangy, succulent fishy deliciousness!

Fabulous, simple and totally delicious, a Gilda is a tapa on a stick. It consists of olives, boquerones en vinagre and a pickled mild guindillas (green chillies). Rumour has it that it was invented in honour of Rita Hayworth, to celebrate the screening of her film ’Gilda’ at the 1946 San Sebastian Film Festival.

There doesn’t appear to be a right or wrong way of how you put your Gilda together, as long as it consists of the three items - it can be threaded in any order, and with any amount of each on the stick.

The combination is truly wonderful - all three elements bring out the best in each other. Fast to prepare, it’s an instant canape from storecupboard ingredients and a fantastic way to celebrate this tiny fish with a huge flavour.


Preparation: 1 minute

1 x 150g tray of Herpac boquerones en vinagre (use anchovies if you prefer)

1 x 150g tin of Gordal pitted green olives

1 x 130g jar of Brindisa hot guindilla peppers

Arrange as desired and consume with gusto with a glass of Fino or Manzanilla alongside.

Want to find out more about Sherry and Spanish food? Come to beautiful Vejer de la Frontera and get a first-hand experience on a cookery course at Annie B’s, or join one of my year-round sherry tasting classes and tours.

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