This week in the kitchen at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island we’re exploring local baitfish. In the Puget Sound smaller plankton-eating species such as sardines, herring, smelt, and anchovies appear abundantly this time of year. Generally regarded as baitfish for local salmon, cod, and sea mammal populations, these baitfish are integral to our local ecosystem.
This week Jeremy Brown, a local fisherman, dropped off a cooler of freshly-caught Northern anchovies. An underutilized ingredient in North American kitchens, this anchovy differs from the popular Spanish anchovy, known as the boquerones.
The Northern anchovy experienced a brief surge in popularity during the 1950s after the collapse of the North Pacific sardine canning fishery. Since then, however, Northern anchovies rarely are seen fresh in the kitchen.
Like the smelt, these anchovies look awesome. Sleek and shimmering, they are really fantastic when fresh. As they age, the oils in the flesh spoil, creating a ‘fishy’ taste and aroma. Not so nice. In the kitchen we have two goals for this baitfish:
- For a few days, they are perfect as a snack.
- Fried whole until crisp, they are great with a touch of salt and vinegar—a really brilliant snack.
To store them, we clean and salt the fish well, curing them for the months to come. It’s important for us to have products like these in our pantry. These stored fish, for instance, lend a fishy, umami-rich flavor much more complex than traditional salt.
It’s about more than just adding balance to a dish. Products like these keep us dynamic and nimble, opening the door for new discoveries and flavors.