Our Taste Test Reveals the Top-Rated Anchovy Fillets

Anchovies. Anchovies. WRONG. I’ve found that everyone loves anchovies, but some people aren’t aware of it. Anchovies, according to many chefs and experienced home cooks, are a favorite secret weapon in the food industry. They’re an excellent source of glutamic acid and inosinic acids, two molecules that trigger our sense of savoriness. Do you think that you are an exception? The long list of guests I have fed anchovies to in soups, stews, sauces and salads.

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Let’s clarify a few points before we continue. Anchovies do not all have the same taste. Anchovies are mild, light, plump and briny. They’re also pretty inoffensive. Salt-packed anchovies are also available. They’re minimally processed and still have their fins and bones intact. For most preparations they will need to be soaked and filled in water or milk. Anchovies are also available in paste form. However, we prefer the salt- or oil packed anchovies over anchovy past.

The anchovies that you are most likely to be familiar with come in jars and cans. They’re used in sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and even my stomach. These are the anchovies that we’re referring to today: those that have been salted-cured and stored in oil. This curing process is what gives anchovies their intensely salty taste and pungent fishy smell. This is also responsible for breaking down myosin, one of the muscle proteins in fish that holds its flesh together.

Some people love the bold flavor of anchovies and will eat them whole. Others are more cautious and only open their lids when instructed by a recipe. You’ve probably experienced the moment of paralysis in the grocery store when you stared at those colorful swarms of filleted fish. Which is better, a jar or a can, expensive or cheap? And, most importantly, does the price always matter? We decided to test it out.

If you are someone who removes them from recipes completely, we’re done.

The Contenders
We tasted eight popular brands. Several of them are available both in jars and cans. We chose to test both types, resulting in a total of 11 different samples. Each sample contains only three ingredients: olive oil, anchovies and salt.

Agostino Recca (Jar)
Agostino Recca (Can)
Bellino (Jar)
Cento (Can)
Crown Prince Jar
Crown Prince (Canadian)
Merro (Jar)
Ortiz
Polar
Roland (Jars)
Roland (Can)
The Tasting
We wondered if this concept applied to anchovies. We wanted to make sure that we were evaluating each package as thoroughly as possible. So, we asked tasters to try it in three different variations: plain, with a Caesar dressing, and with a puttanesca. All samples were prepared and weighed the same way, apart from the anchovies.

The two preparations were evaluated on a scale from 1 to 10. We asked tasters to rate the plain anchovies on three different axes: overall quality, salinity, and texture. (More below). We provided crackers and water to combat palate fatigue. As an anchovy lover, I can say that this was the most difficult taste test I’ve ever done during my tenure at Serious Eats.

In this spirit, I’d like to ask you all to join me for a moment of silent reflection in honor of those brave and loyal tasters who have sacrificed their palates for the greater good. For those who are doing the maths, this is 33 samples and 55 rating.

The taste test is conducted blindly and without any discussion. The order in which the samples are tasted is random. Taster A might taste the sample 1 first while taster B would taste the sample 6. To prevent one sample from unfairly benefiting due to palate fatigue, this is done. The tasters fill out tasting sheets to rank the samples according to various criteria, which vary from sample-to-sample. The results are calculated without any editorial input, and all data is tabulated.

The Results
It was quickly apparent that the tasters’ opinions on anchovies were vastly varied. The good news is? The good news?

Have you ever considered eating anchovies in another way? Grab your hat, and get out of the house. Read on if you want to keep the fillets. Here’s where it gets interesting (and a little confusing).

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about the brand of anchovies when cooking with them. It doesn’t really matter which brand of anchovies you buy if you are going to cook with them.

First, there wasn’t much agreement in our group about what makes a great anchovy. Me? I’m looking for a properly filledeted fillet, which means that there aren’t too many pesky bones. Anchovy saltiness is inevitable. However, if it has been over-cured, the meatiness will be lost and the texture will become grainy and metallic. When it comes to taste, I’m looking for a clean brininess, which is just on the edge of being fishy, but not going too far.

It turns out, not everyone is in agreement. Some people, like me, preferred meaty, firm anchovies. Others wanted something that had a stronger fishy flavor or a more fluid texture. Some had never eaten anchovies before and were overwhelmed by their saltiness. We had two outliers that were a bit unusual. If their scores had been removed, the top products would have stood out even more from the rest.

We can say that the container didn’t make a difference in quality. Both our winner and clear loser were stored in jars. Most interestingly, the tasters noticed a distinct difference between canned and jarred products within a brand. While Ortiz is our winner and has the highest price per ounce (5.40/oz), there are plenty of other options available for less. Amazon has a wide range of options for less money.

Prices are based on supermarket purchases made in New York City. They do not represent a cost standard set by the manufacturer or distributor. Pricing varies greatly depending on the volume of orders and bulk purchases.

The Winner: Ortiz Jar (6.6/10)
Ortiz Anchovies (3-Pack)

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Ortiz was the best gourmet brand we’ve tried. We paid less than $2 per ounce for every sample. What makes it different? What makes it different?

Merro Jar – 2nd place (6.8/10).
Merro Fillets of Anchovies

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Merro is sold for just $1.26 per ounce, a huge difference from Ortiz. It was the mild flavor and tenderness of this fish that was appreciated. It was thought by some to be too mild and that one person “wished it were slightly more fishy.” Overall, we would happily purchase and eat it whole.

3rd Place: Agostino Recca Can (6.5/10)
Some tasters were put off by the level of salinity in the Agostino recca can ($1.65/oz). Most people praised the size of the fish and its remarkable tenderness. The consensus seemed to be “very firm, meaty” like good canned tuna. The consensus was “Wow! This is salty!”

Roland Jar (4th place)
Roland ($1.46/oz. ) Its blandness was the main reason for its rise in popularity. Some people found the anchovies to be dry or over-cured, but others thought it was “inoffensive”.

5th Place: Agostino Recca Jar (6.3/10)
The mean and median scores are now significantly different. In fact, Agostino Recca Jar (1.76 oz., $1.76) was the winner. The Agostino Recca Jar ($1.76/oz.) received some of the highest scores and the lowest during the tasting. Interesting, even those who disagreed noted the same traits. They were simply valued differently. Agostino recca has a “nice, clean flavor” with a “slight chalkiness”.

5th Place: Roland Can (6.9/10)
Again, our tasters were divided. One participant was unhappy, writing, “Very plasticky texture, very prickly bone.” One participant said, “Classic canned flavor.” A second person stated, “Very smooth taste.” This is a good plain food. It’s not too salty. It didn’t have much of a full-bodied flavor, nor did it have a meaty texture.

6th place: Crown Prince Can (6.10/10)
Crown Prince ($1.15/oz) was not a favorite. Crown Prince ($1.15/oz) was not well received by consumers.

7th Place: Cento Can (6/10)
No question here, Cento ($1.29/oz.) Cento ($1.29/oz.) It was the only product in the samples that could be recognized as distinct. The anonymous taster says it best, “Holy sh*t! It’s fishy!” It’s like a bucket of chum. No. Bony too. Even in dressings and sauces, a major fishy aftertaste.” Ugh.”

Crown Prince Jar (7/10): 7th place
Nearly all tasters noted that the Crown Prince Anchovies ($1.86/oz) had a mealy and funkiness. Others said it was overcooked, and others found the flavor “almost funny” and “overwhelming.”

8th Place: Polar Can (5.6/10)
Some tasters found Polar ($1.15/oz), a deep and profound experience. “Deep, heavy-tasting. “Not sure if it’s a positive thing?” asked one. One person wrote “Dissolves in the mouth. Can’t decide whether I like it or not.

9th Place: Bellino Jar (5.1/10)
Bellino ($1.41/oz. ), the clear loser, was a close second. There was a problem with quality control. Commenters noted that this product had a “stinky” smell and was a “little ripe”. The texture and flavor were also not much better, being described as “thin”, “fishy”, “too soft”, and “a little wimpy”.

FAQs
What is anchovies?
Anchovies, which are saltwater fish of a size no larger than seven inches long, are a small species. Most commonly, they’re consumed as conserves or in tinned/jarred seafood and fish. Anchovies are available in three different forms: paste, whole and seasoned, or in oil. You’ll find the paste- and oilpackaged varieties in your local grocery store. However, you can also buy more specialty versions at specialty food stores or online.

What does anchovies taste of?
Anchovies have a salty, fatty, and oily taste. They are intensely savory due to their glutamic acid and inosinic acids. Anchovies are a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad.

What is the difference between anchovies, sardines and other fish?
We can understand how you could assume that. Both are small, fatty fish that’s regularly preserved and cured. The differences end there. Sardines have a larger size and lighter colored flesh. Sardines have a milder flavor with fewer salty-savory notes. Both are great on toast but they’re not interchangeable.

How do jarred anchovies and tinned ones get made?
Anchovies are available in a wide variety of products, but we’re referring to the jarred or tinned anchovies that have been fully prepared. Anchovies, after being harvested, are gutted, (all bones and other fiddly parts removed), filled (sliced into neat portions), and then packed in olive oils. The anchovies are then preserved by using a canning method that makes them shelf-stable.

Is it necessary to keep anchovies in the refrigerator?
Jarred and tinned anchovies can be kept at room temperature–ideally, a cool, dry place like your pantry–until they are opened. You can store any remaining cured anchovies in the fridge if you do not use the entire tin/jar.

What can you make with anchovies as a ingredient?

Anchovies are great for more than just toast. They’re delicious on pizza. In some pasta sauces, they are a key ingredient. They will dissolve in the hot pan and release their aromatics. They can be added to salad dressings, sauces or meat marinades for a salty kick.

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Rochelle Bilow

Rochelle Bilow

Rochelle is also a published novelist. She writes freelance about food. Rochelle Bilow, a Vermont-based writer, specializes in articles about cooking at home, including techniques, equipment, and tools. Since over a decade, she has written professionally about food.

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