Deep Fried Anchovies with Chilli & Lime Mayo

I rarely come across fresh anchovies, so when I spotted some in a local fishmonger (Moxon’s in East Dulwich), I greedily snapped up three big handfuls, cheap as chips at £2.something for the lot. Being an anchovy obsessive, the thought of eating them in a new way was almost a bit much for me; I couldn’t get home fast enough. “You can cook them just like whitebait” the fishmonger advised. “Really?” I countered, “their heads look a bit big to eat.” I think we must have had our wires crossed somewhere because every recipe I looked at told me to remove the heads and gut them. In the end, I turned to that fount of all food knowledge, The Larousse Gastronomique and it didn’t let me down, providing  clear instructions on how to clean and fry my most favourite of fishes. We were off.

The obvious accompaniment to the anchovies would be tartare sauce, but I’d picked up a jar of preserved limes recently at one of my best-loved local stores – Khan’s in Peckham. The sign above the shop never fails to make me smile: “walk in and see the variety”. Thing is, Khan really ain’t kidding. If he sells beans then he sells every kind of bean you can think of. Same with oils, halloumi style cheeses and, to my sheer delight, pickles. So many different kinds of pickles. I had to check myself and make a pact to buy only one pickle a month, otherwise things could get very out of hand. As you move towards the back of the store though, aside from meeting with every kind of dried pulse imaginable, things start to get a bit weird. I’ve never been right back there and I’m not sure if I might get swallowed up, into some kind of Peckham Narnia. One day, one day.

Anyway, the limes. They basically taste like the lime pickle you would eat with a curry, but milder and without the heavy spicing, so I decided to use them in place of lemon juice or other acidity in my mayo. I also chucked in a birds-eye chilli from the garden, a good fat clove of garlic and some parsley found lying around looking a bit sorry for itself. A bit of elbow grease and light chopping later, and a fine dipping sauce was created.

The anchovies were beheaded and gutted before being gently wiped clean. The Larousse instructs not to wash the anchovies, as their flesh is very delicate; I found this to be very sound advice. They were then dipped in milk followed by seasoned flour and fried until golden brown. We piled them high on plates, squeezed a generous amount of lemon on top and dunked and dipped into the spicy lime mayo. They didn’t last long. Crispy yet large enough to retain a bit of soft flesh inside, they were like whitebait but ten times better, what with being anchovies and all. We devoured the lot in minutes and I’m actively seeking out my next fix.

I now have a large jar of limes of course which I’ve been steadily working my way through. I’ve had success with a piquant dressing for halloumi mixed with some chilli and mint and I’ve plans for a stuffed mackerel this weekend which will incorporate them also. After all, I need to get through the jar just so I can justify buying my next pickle.


Deep Fried Anchovies

First, prepare your anchovies by cutting off their heads and removing the guts. It is easiest to remove the guts with your fingers. Do not try to do this under the tap as the flesh of the anchovy is very delicate, and will break. Chris also had some success twisting the head off, in which case the guts tend to come out at the same time. Just get in there and give it a go I say. If they need further cleaning, give them a little wipe.

Begin heating some oil for deep frying. Tip some plain flour onto a plate and season generously with salt and pepper (fresh anchovies are not as salty as the canned ones) and also have a bowl of milk to hand. Dip each anchovy first into the milk then roll in the seasoned flour. Deep fry, in small batches and drain on kitchen paper. Pile high and serve with the spicy mayo.

Spicy, Preserved Lime Mayo

Take two egg yolks and a fat garlic clove crushed with a pinch of salt. Mix these together in a bowl. Next take about 250-300ml oil of your choice (I often use light olive oil (it needs to be light) but I sometimes also use groundnut, as it is flavourless) and begin adding this to the yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, whisking each few drops in until they are fully incorporated before adding the next. Then, once the mayonnaise starts to get a bit thicker, start adding the oil a little bit faster, whisking all the time. Keep adding oil to the desired thickness (if you think my mayo looks a bit thin in the above picture then you are right, I ran out of oil).

If the mayonnaise splits, take a fresh egg yolk (in a fresh bowl) and begin adding the split mixture to it, a little at a time, as you did with the oil. This should bring it back.

Stir in some chopped parsley, chilli, 1 finely diced pickled lime and black pepper and add more salt if necessary. You could just use some lime or lemon juice or something like white wine vinegar if you do not have the pickled lime.

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27 thoughts on “Deep Fried Anchovies with Chilli & Lime Mayo

  1. What a fantastic article. I spend days on the internet reading blogs, about tons of different subjects. I have to first of all give kudos to whoever created your theme and second of all to you for writing what i can only describe as an amazing post. I honestly believe there is a skill to writing articles that only a few posses and frankly you have it. The combination of informative and quality content is definitely extremely rare with the large amount of blogs on the internet.

  2. Foodrambler – You should definitely try both at once – the deep fried as a starter and then the pasta afterwards. Anchovy night!

    Jonathan – Ha ha, it makes me laugh every time. Seriously though – of he stocks it – he stocks every variety going. A strange and wonderful place.

    them apples – I do hope you have success at your fishmonger. I always love to find another person who appreciates anchovies as they should be appreciated. King of fish; small yet mighty. Whitebait too – what a treat!

  3. I’ve always been a fan of small fish, deep-fried.

    It all started when I was about 11 in a famous Italian restaurant in Leeds. I had a couple of my dad’s whitebait after he offered me one with that ‘there’s no way on earth a kid will eat this’ look on his face. I loved a challenge, even back then. The next time we ate out, I ordered my own, to the complete shock of my parents, and the disgust of my brother and sister.

    That started something that’s continued sporadically ever since. I order whitebait whenever it’s on the menu, and I pick some up to cook at home any time I see it, which isn’t as often as I’d like…

    But anchovies….that raises the bar, raises it very high indeed. Anchovies are delicious in all their forms and I can’t imagine that deep frying them will be anything less than sensational.

    I’ll make enquiries at my friendly, local fishmongers on Monday (have been very nice to him and spent a LOT of money there, so time for payback).

  4. Jenn – Yeah, you don’t see them here very often either!

    Powerfulpierre – mmmm salty anchovies! The anchovies are basically a little bit bigger than whitebait. They are just that little bit too big so you can’t eat their heads which means a bit more effort in preparation but they are definitely worth it! Just think of the length of a normal canned anchovy fillet and then imagine a head on it!

  5. I was quite surprised when I read this, my experience of anchovies are the incredibly canned salty fillets which I absolutely love but Mrs powerfulpierre cannot stand. I have never seen them in France but perhaps that is because I did not know that they were available fresh and I used to love whitebait, Chris and I used to yum em down but again not seen for years. Are the anchovies like sardines? It is impossible to tell when they are out of a can.

  6. aforkfulofspaghetti – it is indeed a problem! I need a reliable source and, as Tommi pointed out below, a sustainable one. I really should have thought about that – too carried away with the excitement.

    Mel – yeah, I don’t see them in there very often. It was one of those chance encounters really where you just come across them and have to snap them up pronto.

    Fiona – I knew you would love the frugality of this meal!

    Peter – It was my pleasure to virtually feed you! I only wish I could come across the fresh ones more often.

    Chris – yeah, if they were more whitebait size then I would have done for sure but we looked at them and the heads were just too big. It wouldn’t have been very nice and I don’t think they would have softened up enough. This was confirmed when I started looking at recipes. The size is a bonus when you do come to eat them though as they still stay quite fleshy inside rather than being totally crispy as whitebait often are. You get more flavour.

    Mathilde – Thank you! I really urge you to try again with the anchovies, particularly the fresh ones. They are really quite different to the very salty ones you get in jars or tins, if they are not your thing. I love them personally but I can understand why people don’t.

    Lizzie – ha ha! It might turn her…

    EAT PICTURES – Wow! Thank you. I am very flattered.

    Jeanne – Yes, very simple! The only fiddly bit really is the preparation of the fish.

    Paul – Thanks! I have preserved limes on the brain…

    Kerri – Mine too! love those crispy little fishes.

    Tommi – Yes, a very good point which I should have mentioned. I find it a bit confusing though to be honest. Isn’t it the case that we can eat them from some places but not others? I had no idea about them being fed to salmon though, so thank you for that. I would give up smoked salmon for anchovies any day.

    The Curious Cat – If you find some, snap them up!

    Oysterculture – Yes, that seems to be a common issue! I personally love the canned variety and will eat them straight from the tin! I realise I may be in the minority here…

    LexEat – yes, how much are salads to takeaway by the way? Is it cheaper at lunchtime?

    Gastrogeek – Thank you! Oh how I adore the anchovies. I know you love the canned ones too though. Mmmm, hot buttered anchovy toast…dribble…

    The Graphic Foodie – Yeah absolutely.I am so glad I read that first. I was worried when I got them as some were a bit damaged and I was concerned about freshness but then I realised that their flesh is just very delicate.

  7. Oh you’re just messing with my head now….As I read this the tin of anchovies in olive oil in my cupboard has gone from being an anticipated treat to a sorry substitute. With preserved lime mayo you say? What an inspired creation!

  8. These look incredible Helen! I’m itching to go find fresh anchovies to recreate your dish!
    Also glad you enjoyed Islington Ottolenghi – it’s a local for me but usually so busy we mainly get takeaway salads in summer to enjoy in the park.

  9. I’ve learned to love anchovies, after an initial exposure only to the canned variety. I can only imagine how crazy delish this meal is and now must seek out the fresh ones for myself.

  10. Totally, utterly yummy, what a delicious sounding recipe but do mention about buying sustainably caught little fishies maybe as there really aren’t many anchovies left anymore…lots sent to salmon farms to feed our love of smoked salmon…

  11. That is the most delicious looking/sounding blog post I have read for a very long time
    Beautifully done – in every respect
    I am soooo going to keep an eye out for fresh anchovies and preserved limes
    Yum yum yuuuuuuum

  12. They look delicious. This has jumped straight to the top of my ‘must make’ list. I can imagine what my housemate’s face would look like if she caught me twisting the heads off fresh anchovies…

  13. I have never been a great fan of Anchovies but the way you cooked makes me think that I should change my mind about it. The halloumi with the piquant dressing definitely gets my vote. Very nice recipe and beautiful pictures

  14. These look bloody amazing. Presumably though if they were any smaller you could have just eaten them whole? I wonder what they would have been like if you’d cooked these whole and just left the heads on while eating?

  15. Helen, us Greeks love and eat alot of fresh anchovies…some of the best fish…if you can find it!

    Love lurve this dish…thanks for the virtual feeding.

  16. The only problem with doing anchovies like that is that, like you, I think I’d just be totally hooked, and eating them morning, noon, and night.

    Then again, is that really a problem?

    Another great post, Helen.


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