The anchovies of Monterosso

In the heart of the Cinque Terre National Park, the charming village of Monterosso, preserves the ancient tradition of anchovy fishing to provide ambrosia sought after by top chefs.

In Monterosso the fisherman catch a particular species of anchovy with a bright slivery belly and flanks and a bluish-black back. After a long journey this anchovy reaches eastern Liguria in the month of June, and the local fisherman knows that Saint John’s feast day is when the best catches are made.

The anchovies of Monterosso have a particular balanced flavor, neither too bland nor too strong.

Once known as “bread of the sea”, the anchovy is a leading ingredient of many Ligurian recipes: salted, in lemon, in oil, stuffed, baked, marinated or simply deep fried.

Fishing as long been one of the Monterosso’s chief sources of income: the precious catches used to be sold fresh locally with part put away by preserving in salt. Salting, very ancient technique that dates back to the 12th century, was traditionally a job for the women of the village.

Salting begins with gutting the fish and removing the heads, after which the anchovies are left to dry for several hours. Next the fishes are placed in a wide bowl with a liberal sprinkling of coarse sea salt and left for some hours while the salt leaches out most of the blood.

The anchovies are then drained to remove the blood and brine before being packed tightly into glass jars in alternating cross layers of fish and salt, with the fishes placed belly to back as dictated by tradition.

When there are no empty spaces left, brine, made by dissolving as much salt as possible in hot water, is poured into the jars to eliminate any air and fill the jars. A glass disc is used to press down on the topmost layer of anchovies, and the brine must cover this as well as being approx. 1 cm higher than the last layer of anchovies. Finally a 1 kg weight is put on top of the glass disc.

The anchovies thus prepared can be eaten after 2 months, checking they are still covered by the brine.

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