Salty and fishy, anchovy fillets can help you make salad dressings, tomato sauces, seafood risottos, pasta dishes, and pizza pies smell like the sea and taste meatier.
Anchovies are native to the Mediterranean Sea, which is why they’re such an essential ingredient in its cuisine. Traditionally, they are filleted, salt-cured for a few months, and preserved in oil (sunflower oil in cheaper cans and olive oil in pricier jars).
In this post, we’ll talk about the shelf life of anchovies. I’ll give you my best tips for maximizing it, plus a few ideas for using up leftover fillets.
How Long Do Anchovies Last?
You’ve probably noticed that most grocery stores don’t refrigerate cans and jars of anchovies and sell them on the shelves of the canned foods aisle instead.
Unopened anchovies, whether canned or jarred, last indefinitely. That said, they will only keep their best quality for 1-2 years when kept in a cool and dry place. Afterwards, they get mushy and smell fishy.
Can you put them in your cabinet or pantry once you take them home?
“Anchovies will eventually break down and become mushy. The cans may even puff,” canned seafood producer Crown Prince says on its website.
“This occurs because there is a non-harmful bacteria that survives in salt. This bacteria can be inconvenient because when it grows it can eventually form a gas which will puff the can. We repeat that this is not harmful to humans, but is most inconvenient.”
Heat hastens bacterial growth, so it’s a good idea to store unopened anchovies in your fridge, even though grocery stores don’t do it (don’t forget retailing is a low-margin business, so you need to cut costs when and where possible).
Tightly sealed and refrigerated, store-bought anchovy fillets typically last for at least 2 months once opened. If the anchovies came in a tin can, transfer them to a food storage container and store them with the lid closed.
There’s no need to get worried if you see a grainy white residue surrounding the anchovy fillets. Occasionally, salt can build up around the edges of the fish.
All of the fillets should be completely submerged in oil to keep them from spoiling (or salt, as is the case with salt-packed anchovies). So if your jar or container is running short on olive oil or sea salt, top it up.
What to do if salted anchovies are a little too… salted for your taste? Bon Appétit suggests soaking them in water for 30 minutes. Keep in mind that they’ll turn somewhat soggy after that, so not the best idea if you intend to keep their firmness (for example, for adding to salad or topping pizza with).
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to use up surplus anchovy fillets within a few weeks after opening. I’ve noticed that their taste gets fishier with prolonged storage, and that’s something that not everyone in your household may like.
What to Do With Leftover Anchovies?
Don’t be fooled by their tininess!
Anchovies carry a tremendous ability to improve flavor—and it’s not just because they’ve soaked up a lot of salt while being cured for 6 to 9 months.
Anchovy fillets are a rich source of glutamate and inosinate. These two chemical compounds are known to create the mouthwatering sensation of savoriness when they come in contact with your tastebuds.
For the same reason, you don’t really need that many of them for most recipes. So, whenever you take a can home from the store and cook with it, you’re left with plenty of surplus fillets lying around in your fridge.
Here are a few of my favorite things to do with them.
By far the easiest way to use up surplus anchovies which kids, young and grown, tend to love, is to make anchovy baguettes.
Transfer a part-baked baguette from your freezer to your fridge the night before so that it thaws and you can easily cut through it.
Cut in halves, top with lightly-salted, hand-crushed canned tomatoes and a few anchovy fillets. Give them a generous cracking of black pepper, and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 15 minutes (or until the bread browns neatly).
Make pizza dough, or buy a bag of it ready-made from the store or nearby pizzeria. Keep it in its original packaging and leave it in your fridge for 2-3 days so that the yeast makes it nice and airy.
Place your pizza stone, cast iron skillet, or a baking sheet turned upside-down in your oven and preheat it to maximum temperature for 45 minutes. Remember: pizza puffs up best when the room-temperature pie comes into sudden contact with a scorching-hot surface.
Top the pizza with hand-crushed canned tomatoes, anchovy fillets, and basil leaves. Optionally, add a few small chunks of fresh buffalo’s or cow’s milk mozzarella. Transfer the pizza to your oven and bake until the crust turns soft and brown, but not crusty and dark.
Anchovy Garlic Butter
Cut a stick of butter into small cubes and set aside for a few minutes. Dice a few garlic cloves and anchovy fillets, grind them into a paste, and incorporate them with the butter.
Voilà! You just made anchovy garlic butter. Keep it in a food storage container in your fridge, and make sure to use it up within 3-4 days. It’s a fantastic spread for folks who love seafood. Especially on freshly-baked focaccia!
Tomato-Based Pasta Sauces
This technique is excellent for adding flavor to tomato sauces and using up 2-3 surplus anchovy fillets at a time.
Peel and mince a couple of garlic cloves. Then finely dice a few anchovy fillets. Mix the two together and, with one side of your chef’s knife, turn them into a paste by grinding them into your cutting board for at least a minute or two.
On your stove and over medium-high heat, sauté the garlic-anchovy paste in extra virgin olive oil for 20-30 seconds, stirring often, then quickly add hand-crushed canned tomatoes to the pan.
Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer until the sauce achieves the thickness you like. Toss it with just-boiled pasta noodles.
I’ve written in detail about this technique in my tagliatelle, tomato, and anchovy pasta recipe.
Traditional Caesar Salad
You know the drill!
When you have the munchies for a quintessential Caesar salad, anchovies are a must-have for the dressing.
The story has it that, one night during service, Tijuana chef and restaurateur Caesar Cardini ran out of ingredients, so he came up with a “special” salad that incorporated all he had left:
Romaine lettuce tossed with croutons and dressed with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, anchovies, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, grated parmesan, and cracked black pepper.
Whenever you have all or some of these ingredients at home, make this delicious and refreshing salad.
Thanks for reading this far!
Canned anchovies, to many’s great surprise, can last forever. Still, they only keep their best quality for a year or two. Then, they turn mushy and start to smell fishy… very fishy.
After opening them, refrigerate them in an air-tight jar or food storage container—and they’ll stay good for at least 2 months. And do try out one of my ideas for using up surplus filets above!
Let me know which one’s your favorite, and I encourage you to share your ideas in the comments below.
Thanks for a concise and informative post. I always have the best intentions for using up those leftover little fishies, but always lose my nerve. 😂
JS in KS
Thanks for stopping by, Jenn! Used mine up for *yet another* leftover anchovy pizza yesterday and it was delicious!
Thanks for this post. My favourite way to use anchovy fillets is as a starter for chowder — creamy corn and haddock chowder in the instant pot, started by sauteing anchovy fillets with butter and garlic in the pot.
when stored in refrigerator the olive oil tends to solidify making it harder to get whole anchovies out of the jar. How do u solve this problem
Let me hop in and answer your question: Remove the anchovies from the fridge and rest at room temperature 10 to 15 minutes before using them. That should be just about enough for the olive oil to loosen up!