Hump Day: Anchoas Sanfilippo | Cantabrian Anchovies

In the last post I spoke to you all about Spain's recent call to action "Ni Un Pez Por La Borda" in which chefs, lawmakers, citizens, and the seafood eating public are learning more and more about the truth of the fishing industry. What is fished from our oceans and into our mouths is a rather complicated string and it involves a whole line of people from the point of capture, legislators, fishmongers to consumers. As a side note I highly suggest you see the documentary, The End of the Line. While we can vote to change policies, the choices we make at point-of-sale have the biggest impact on this chain gang, and can potentially break or disrupt a crucial link.

One way to do this is to eat smaller fish. Ironically they are healthier (less mercury), more sustainable, and in in my humble opinion stronger in taste than the bigger fish of the sea that need years to grow and a heavy cream sauce. It is less likely that these species are over-fished, farmed or illegally caught. In fact Spain is world famous for its anchovies, known as anchoas. And the place to get them is Cantabria, an autonomous region sandwich between the land masses of the Basque Country, Castile & Leon and Asturias, and of which the capital is Santander. Touristically speaking it is often overlooked, but it remains rich in food history and culture, facing the Bay of Biscay to the north and backed by the green hills of the Cantabrian mountains to the south, peppered with dairy and beef cows.

For generations along this coast, fishermen have been dedicating their practice to harvesting anchovies. Once captured, those that don't go to the markets for sale, often end up in a cylindrical tin, a traditional salazón, a method of preserving meats and fish by way of salt exposure, a practice that helps to fight off certain bacteria and has existed since the time of the Egyptians. Spain is still dotted with Roman ruins that showcase the salazones where fermented fish sauce, garum, was produced in high quantity and shipped back by boat to Italy.


Sanfilippo, a company established in 1896 by Italian immigrants, Sicily to be exact, but with nets now permanently cast in Santoña, Cantabria now feeds the country and some other parts of the world with their daily omega-3 intake. According to Spain's ABC newspaper they are the finest quality anchovies in Spain. I had the opportunity to sit down with a 4th generation decedent of the family and taste this premium delicacy. Now I have to admit that prior to giving this anchovy a shot, I only knew anchovies as a super salty oddly tasting addition to Italian pizzas or particular Caesar salad dressings. Having moved to Spain I graduated to anchovies tucked into cocktail olives as a snack or appetizer. So it wasn't until this decisive moment at the Sanfilippo stand in Premium Alimentaria Barcelona that I realized anchovies are pretty great. They were fresh, a fair amount of salt lingered, the oils and textures of the flesh still were evident, as was the color "alive", pleasantly easy to eat in their own fishy melt-in-your-mouth way, and certainly well accompanied with a dab of fine Spanish olive oil. En fin, not like any other "anchovy" I had been served out of a tin before and certainly not just any old cheap anchovy.

Sanfilippo keeps very high standards for their product. All of the anchovies are to meet guidelines of weight, size, freshness, fishing season (when the meat is fatter) and zone of capture. The process remains 100% artisan and they work closely with their communities to ensure that the best raw material and final product is provided.

The most innovative stand of Alimentaria 2012 was that of Sanfilippo, where in you could watch these women and men prepare, clean and can anchovies. 

Anchoas en salazón. Anchovies in salt in a 3 kilo tin. Instructions are included with purchase of this larger tin as the consumer must clean the anchovies of the salt and spines before eating. And in the background, the recommended size for home use, a tin of 380 grams, 8 pieces and a price tag of 24 euros.

 Fillets served in olive oil, tin of 250 grams is worth 37 euros. 

 Tasters, buyers and the press sit down for a Cantabrian tapa of anchovies Sanfilippo. 

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