Definitions

mediterranean anchovy

Anchovy

[an-choh-vee, -chuh-, an-choh-vee]

The anchovies are a family (Engraulidae) of small, common salt-water fish. The anchovy is a small green fish with blue reflections due to a silver longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal fin. It is a maximum of nine inches (~23 cm) in length and body shape is variable with more slender fish in northern populations. The snout is blunt with small, sharp teeth in both jaws. The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, two fish which anchovies closely resemble. The anchovy eats plankton and fry (recently-hatched fish).

Distribution

They are found in scattered areas throughout the world's oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. It is generally very accepting of a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Large schools can be found in shallow, brackish areas with muddy bottoms, as in estuaries and bays. Anchovies are abundant in the Mediterranean, and are regularly caught on the coasts of Sicily, Italy, France, and Spain. They are also found on the coast of northern Africa. The range of the species also extends along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the south of Norway. Spawning occurs between October and March, but not in water colder than 12° C (53.6° F). The anchovy appears to spawn at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the shore, near the surface of the water.

Predation

The anchovy is a significant food source for almost every predatory fish in its environment, including the California halibut, rock fish, yellowtail, sharks, chinook, and coho salmon. It is also extremely important to marine mammals and birds; for example, California brown pelicans and elegant terns, whose breeding success is strongly connected to anchovy abundance. As anchovy populations drop, the population of the predatory species is also expected to decline.

Overfishing of anchovies has been a problem. Since the 1980s, large mechanized anchovy fishing vessels based in France have caught the fish in fine-mesh dragnets.

Consumption

Anchovies are also eaten by humans. When preserved by being gutted and salted in brine, matured, then packed in oil or salt, they acquire a characteristic strong flavour. In Roman times, they were the base for the fermented fish sauce called garum that was a staple of cuisine and an item of long-distance commerce produced in industrial quantities. Today they are used in small quantities to flavour many dishes. Because of the strong flavor they are also an ingredient in several sauces, including Worcestershire sauce and many fish sauces, and in some versions of Café de Paris butter. For domestic use, anchovy fillets are packed in oil or salt in small tins or jars, sometimes rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also available. Fishermen also use anchovies as bait for larger fish such as tuna and sea bass.

The strong taste that people associate with anchovies is due to the curing process. Fresh anchovies, known in Italy as alici, have a much milder flavor.

The European anchovy, Engraulis encrasicolus, is the main commercial anchovy with Morocco being the largest supplier of canned anchovies. The anchovy industry along the coast of Cantabria, initiated in Cantabria by Sicilian salters in the mid 19th century, now dwarfs the traditional Catalan salters.

Fresh and dried anchovies are a popular part of the cuisine in Kerala and other south Indian states where they are referred to as "Kozhuva" and provide a cheap source of protein in the diet. Fresh anchovies are eaten fried or as in a spicy curry. In English-speaking countries, alici are sometimes called "white anchovies", and are often served in a weak vinegar marinade, a preservation method is associated with the coastal town of Collioure in south east France. The white fillets (a little like marinated herrings) are sold in heavy salt, or the more popular garlic or tomato oil and vinegar marinade packs.

In South East Asian countries, anchovies are known as "ikan bilis", "setipinna taty", or in Indonesia "ikan teri", with "ikan" being the Indonesian word for fish, or "dilis" in the Philippines. In Malaysia, Indonesia, and to a certain extent Singapore, anchovies are used to make fish stock, sambal, or deep fried and served with Nasi Lemak. Ikan Bilis is normally used in a similar way to dried shrimp in Malaysian cuisine. Anchovy is also used to produce budu, by a fermentation process. In Vietnam, anchovy is the main ingredient to make fish sauce- nước mắm- the unofficial national sauce of Vietnam. In other parts of Asia such as Korea and Japan sun-dried anchovies are used to produce a rich soup similar to "setipinna taty". These anchovy stocks are usually used as a base for noodle soups or traditional Korean soups. There are many other variations on how anchovy is used, especially in Korea.

Anchovies can concentrate domoic acid which causes amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans, sea mammals, and birds. If suspected, medical attention should be sought.

References

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