Saturday, May 9, 2015

Anchois - Anchovies. Anchovies, Anchoyade and Tapenade in French Cuisine. Looking for Anchovies in the Fishing Village of Collioure.

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Updated February 2021
Anchovies going to school.
Photograph courtesy of Jean


Anchoio in the Provencal language.

The anchovies on the menu in Europe and the East coast of North America will be the European anchovy. There are over one hundred members of the anchovy family spread around the world so there are plenty to choose from. In California and the North American west coast restaurants will serve a close family member from the Pacific.  The most significant use of anchovies for the table are the canned and bottled anchovies.  These preserved anchovies decorate and flavor our sauces and are essential for many Provencal dishes especially the most popular versions of Salade Nicoise. Fresh anchovies are also, in season, popular, and whether grilled, fried, marinated, or smoked, will be on many French menus.

The traditional preserved and strong tasting canned or bottled anchovies are packed after being filleted, matured in brine, and packed in oil or salt.  These characteristically strong-flavored anchovies are brownish-red or grey. For an even more robust flavor, some preserved anchovies will be rolled around capers.

Anchovy filets in a jar.
From the Carrefour supermarket.
In French the small jars used for anchovies are called pots.
Filets d'Anchois à l'Huile d'Olive Carrefour

Canned and bottled anchovies are made into dips and pastes have many uses in French cuisine apart from their time-honored use in most versions of Salads Nicoise and French pizzas. The more potent versions of France's Sauce Remoulade recipes often include anchovies, as do many fish sauces, as well as the Beurre Café de Paris, a compound butter. In the UK, Worcestershire sauce also contains anchovies.

In France, in season, along France’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts you will have the option of freshly marinated, grilled, or smoked anchovies as well as fresh anchovy pastes and spreads. Fresh anchovies have a very different taste to preserved anchovies; they are a mild, tasty fish with a firm texture, and freshly grilled they are a treat.. While resh anchovies are seen all year round they will be on menus in the spring and autumn when they are really abundant. If you haven’t tried fresh anchovies and you see them on the menu, don't think twice, order them. Fresh European anchovies are about 13 cm (5" long). The smaller ones end up fileted in cans and jars.

Grilled fresh anchovies
Photograph courtesy of Fulton Fish Market

Anchois Salés  Salted anchovies.


Anchois Frais - Fresh anchovies.


Anchois Frais Grillés – Grilled fresh anchovies.


Anchois Fumés – Smoked anchovies,


Smoking anchovies
Photograph courtesy of Michael Gaylard


Anchois Frais Marinés Fresh marinated anchovies.  If you have chosen these you will be served white and or ivory-colored anchovy fillets prepared in oil and vinegar. These are mostly on the menu in Provence and Occitanie where the recipe is a popular Spanish import called Boquerones en Vinagre in Spain. Marinated anchovies are much milder than the canned and bottled matured anchovies and the vinegar chosen provides much of the flavor.  


Freshly marinated anchovies.
Photograph courtesy of CuisineAZ


Filets d'Anchois Marinés also called Filets d’Anchois Blanc – In the UK and the USA, these freshly canned or bottled fileted and marinated anchovies are often sold as “white anchovies.  They have none of the strong taste of the salted variety, rather they will have been marinated in white wine vinegar and their natural color does not change.  They usually have a one year sell-by date,


Anchois de Norvège These are not anchovies; they will be other small fish, whitebait, or similar.

The two most popular anchovy sauces:


Beurre Café de Paris - A cold compound butter made with flat parsley, tarragon, marjoram, basil, sage, garlic, shallots and matured anchovy filets. Much of the anchovy’s salt will have been removed by the chef. so the anchovy taste will not be too salty. Slices of this cold butter will be placed on a steak as it is served thereby creating a sauce that melts as the diner eats. Despite its name this sauce has Swiss origins; it was created by M. Boubier, in 1934 then the owner of the Café de Paris in Geneva, Switzerland.

A steak with Beurre Café de Paris
Photograph courtesy of Les Journal des Femmes, Cuisine.


Sauce aux Anchois – A warm anchovy sauce simply made with the anchovies, the Fines Herbes, olive oil and capers blended with fresh mayonnaise. In some recipes butter may replace the olive oil so the exact recipe will depend on the chef.  N.B. The preserved anchovy pastes sold in tubes are very different, they have a much stronger taste that comes from even more salt so they should be used with care.

Rougets Poêlés Sauce aux Anchois
Photograph courtesy of Cuisine Actuelle

Fresh Anchovies on French menus:


Anchois de Collioure et Petite Salade de Chèvre Chaud –  Fresh anchovies from the Mediterranean fishing village of Collioure served with a small salad with warm goat’s cheese.


Anchois Frais Avec Aubergines et Poivrons Grillés – Fresh anchovies served with grilled aubergines, eggplants, and bell peppers. Fresh anchovies have white to ivory colored flesh and lots of omega-3. The grilling removes most of the natural oil but leaves enough to keep them tasty.


Grilled fresh anchovies sprinkled with sea salt
Photograph courtesy of Trip advisor


Anchois Frais Grillés, Sauce Basilic  Grilled fresh anchovies served with a basil sauce. A basil sauce may be a French pistou sauce, similar to the Italian pesto sauce, or something very different. Ask for more information on your Sauce Basilic’s recipe


Anchois Frais Grillés Avec Oignons – Fresh anchovies grilled with onions.


Grilled anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives,
grilled eggplants, aubergines, and zucchini courgettes, and onions.
Photograph courtesy of John Ong  

Anchois Frais Marinés au Vinaigre de Xérès - Fresh anchovies marinated in sherry vinegar.  


Petite Friture de Calamars et Anchois, Sauce Tartare – A small fish fry made with calamari and fresh anchovies served with a Sauce Tatar. 


Filet De Bar Snacké à la Plancha, Beurre d’Anchois, Légumes Verts - Filet of sea bass seared on the plancha and served with a compound anchovy butter; accompanied by green vegetables.


Pissaladière - A pissaladière is caramelized onions, olives, garlic, and anchovies served on a flatbread. A pissaladière is quintessential street food from the City of Nice on the Mediterranean that now makes it to some fine tables where it will be offered as an entrée (the French first course).  


La Napolitaine: Mozzarella Française, Anchois, Câpres, Oignons, Olives, Origan A Neapolitan pizza French style: French mozzarella cheese, anchovies, capers, onions, olives, oregano.


Pizza aux Anchois, Olives et Câpres.
Photograph courtesy of Le Journal des Femmes Cuisine

Anchovy spreads and pastes:


Anchoïade, Anchoyade, Anchoiade, or Anchouiado - An anchovy spread created in Provence. If you like anchovies, garlic, and olive oil, this is for you. An Anchoïade is crushed anchovies, mixed with crushed garlic in olive oil; the puree may also be combined with a dash of vinegar. Spread your Anchoïade thickly on French country bread, a sliced baguette, or toast. Then order a glass of a cold, dry, white wine. Finally, sit back and close your eyes and take a bite; you may find yourself in anchovy, olive oil, and garlic heaven. Anchoïades may also be used in sauces that accompany other dishes, including steaks, fish, and poultry.


There are variations in how Anchoïade is made, and many have local followings along the Mediterranean coast. A popular variation that stands out is tapenade.


Anchoïade, Anchoyade
Photograph courtesy of France-Voyage


Tapenade -  An anchoïade made with added black or green olives and crushed capers. Capers add spice to the spread. Tapenade’s name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. In the South of France, a tapenade may be an hors d'œuvre or spread on salmon or meat and cooked. Anchovies are used in many, many French dishes, and whether fresh or canned, they are absolutely essential in some Provencal recipes 

Buy your Tapenade and take it home.
This tapenade is made with black olives.
Les Oliviers de Saint-Estève

Back in the oceans, anchovies are an essential part of the seas' ecosystem. The vast numbers of anchovies worldwide provide food for hundreds of other fish along with the birds that clean up any that are missed. Hundreds of tons South American anchovies end up as fish meal, an important part of the diet of farmed fish as well as pet food.

A humpback whale
Scooping up hundred of anchovies at a time.
To make the schools of anchovies easier to round up, whales work together creating a ball of swimming anchovies. Then they scoop them up. Here you can see pelicans waiting to pick up any anchovies that the whales miss.
Photograph courtesy of Brad Schram

Anchovies in History.

Historically the matured anchovies we buy in cans or jars are, with their strong taste, linked back to the ancient Romans where anchovies were the base for their famous and extremely strong fermented fish sauce called garum. Back then, garum was already an industrially produced smelly and robust fish sauce based on anchovies and an essential part of Roman cuisine and a significant export. A French friend and foodie pointed out that in Cetara, Italy, some  64 km (38 miles) south of Naples on the Amalfi coast, they produce an even more worthy successor to garum. It is an amber-colored liquid called “Colatura di Alici di Cetara.” It is quite strong and rarely seen in France.

The anchovies we see in jars, pots in French, owe their existence to Nicolas Appert (1749 -1841). Fifty years before Pasteur and his discovery of pasteurization, Appert invented an airtight container that cooked the food inside it and preserved it. After fifteen years of experimentation. Appert received from Napoleon I, in 1810, a prize of 12,000 Francs for his innovation, that’s about US$ 1,000,000 today.  Appert’s invention preserved much more than anchovies and allowed the French navy to take on board food that remained edible for long voyages. 

Filetsd'Anchois à l'Huile
Photograph courtesy of Bien Manger

Anchovies in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan – anxoves), (Dutch- ansjovissen), (German- anchovis, sardelle ), (Italy – acciuga, alice), (Spanish- anchoa, boquerón), (Latin - engraulis encrasicolus, the European anchovy).

A can of flat fileted anchovies in vegetable oil.

Collioure on France’s Mediterranean coast

Collioure is a small and attractive town on France’s Mediterranean coast, just 24 km (15 miles) from the Spanish border. The town earns its living from fishing, wine, and tourism, and the local cuisine is much influenced by the area’s Catalan past. The most famous fish from Collioure are its anchovies, they will be fresh on local menus from April through September, and even their salted and canned varieties are a treat that should not be missed.

There are still two anchovy producers in Collioure that filet the anchovies by hand and salt and bottle the anchovies in the traditional way. Fileting anchovies by hand is an art, and at Anchois Roque and Maison Desclaux, you will have an opportunity to watch the process and taste the product; and, of course, to buy. Their websites give their opening times.

On the first weekend in June, there is a Fête de l’Anchois, an anchovy fete, with the whole town celebrating. N.B. The days may change in 2021, so check with the town’s Tourist Information Office website:

All of this area was once part of Northern Catalonia. Spain ceded the area to France in 1659. Many of the locals still speak Catalan at home and among friends, and Catalan cuisine will be on French menus throughout the region.

Photograph courtesy of Peter Stenzel

Art in Collioure

While you are looking for the right restaurant to enjoy your fresh anchovies, remember that Collioure was loved by Matisse and Andre Derain, amongst the many artists who visited the town. The artists found the colors and light in and around the town dazzlingly beautiful. Collioure became the perfect setting for Matisse and Derain's short-lived venture into Fauvist art. Today, all along the town's "Fauvism footpath, "you will find reproductions displayed on the spots where the original works were painted. The local Tourist Information Office will provide a map. Fauvism, the name of this short-lived school of painting, came from an insult, meaning wild beasts. It was aimed at the founders and their use of raw colors; the most well-known members of this group were the then unappreciated Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Andre Derain.

The town is still a center for artists who love the town, and many painters, writers, and sculptors have made Collioure their home.


Henri Matisse: Landscape at Collioure
The original picture  is part of the collection at Moma, NY.
Photograph courtesy of Wally Gobetz

Around Collioure

Just 13 km  (8 miles) down the coastal  road on the way to Spain is Banyuls sur Mer, the town that gave its name to the Banyuls AOP, which are fortified wines made in a similar manner to Sherry, Port, and Madeira. A fortified wine is made by ending the fermentation that takes place in the barrels by adding an eau-de-vie, a grape alcohol, to the wine.  Ending the fermentation before it is naturally completed controls the amount of alcohol in the wine and the level of sweetness.

The town of Banyuls sur Mer 

From Collioure, 34 km (21 miles) inland is Céret, the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of France. Céret is another small town also loved by many artists, especially the cubists, including Picasso, When you visit Céret, make sure to include the Musée d'Art Moderne de Céret. Pierre Brune and Frank Burty Haviland created this modern art museum in 1950 with the support of their friends Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Haïm Soutine and Georges Braque who also donated works..


Cherry blossom in Céret
Photograph courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

How to get to Collioure:

From Paris to Collioure by TGV with one connection is just under six hours. By car  881 km  (550 miles), and that may take about eight hours. From Paris Orly airport to Perpignan International airport by plane, under one hour and thirty minutes, plus forty minutes from Perpignan to Collioure by car or bus.

From  Marseilles to Collioure via regular train, nearly seven hours, 351 km (220 miles). Approximately three and one-half hours by road.

From London to Collioure by train is approximately eleven hours, with two connections. From London airport to Perpignan by plane is two hours and five minutes plus forty minutes from Perpignan to Collioure by car or bus.


Bryan G. Newman 
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2021
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman
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