Published May 1, 2002. From Cook's Illustrated.
Are all anchovies the same? We purchased four brands to find out.
To some, anchovies are those "stinky little fish" that adorn (or curse) the tops of pizzas. But to us, those little fish are a pantry mainstay, invaluable to the flavor of many sauces. But are all anchovies the same?
All preserved anchovies-small silver-skinned fish usually caught in warm Mediterranean waters-have been cured in salt, but they come to the market in two forms, packed in olive oil (we've all seen those flat, little tins) or in salt. The salt-packed variety is the least processed, having only their heads and some entrails removed, leaving the filleting and rinsing to the home cook. Oil-packed anchovies have been filleted at the factory and are ready-to-use. We purchased four brands of oil-packed anchovies along with one brand of salt-packed anchovies.
We tasted the anchovies in our Caesar dressing and straight up (!). Our favorite fishies (oil-packed) were the favorite for their salty and pleasantly fishy flavor as well as for their firm and "meaty" texture. A salt-packed brand took second place and were well liked for their clean flavor and "solid" texture. Although food snobs may insist that salt-packed anchovies are the only way to go, our tasters found that the right oil-packed anchovies can be just as good.