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Anchovy taste test

Are all anchovies created equal? We popped some top-dollar tins to find out.

Though there's many a diner who considers the anchovy a singular horror, unvarying in its ghastliness, those of us who have acquired the taste tend to be pretty passionate about them, and not a little opinionated about the best brands. We thought it might be interesting to gather together some serious anchovy fanciers and ask them to blind-taste the premium brands available locally. Chef Damien Pignolet, seafood consultant John Susman, Gourmet Traveller food director Emma Knowles and restaurant critic Pat Nourse answered the call.

In order of preference, our tasters ranked salt-packed Nardin anchovies ($325 for 5kg tin from Gourmet Life, or $85/kg sold loose in store) top of the tree, scoring them well out in front. Unlike anchovies packed in oil, salt-packed anchovies need to be butterflied, their spines removed, and then the salt rinsed off them before they're ready to go. Still, it's done in mere moments and the difference in flavour is marked.

Next was Don Bocarte (from $11.50 for 48gm tin from Nomad Distribution), a Spanish brand popular with the Michelin-starred mob in France and Spain, followed by Nardin's tinned product ($9.95 for 50gm tin from Gourmet Life), then the famed Ortiz ($16.50 for 47.5gm tin from Simon Johnson), L'Escala ($7.95 for 50gm tin from Raw Materials), Rizzoli ($7.20 for 90gm tin from Raw Materials), Magdalena Sureda ($44.95 for 140gm jar from Raw Materials), and tied for the lowest score, were Raw Materials' house-brand cold-smoked Spanish anchovies ($10.80 for 100gm tray from Raw Materials) and Pujado Solano (from $8.50 for 50gm tin from Nomad Distribution).

Whichever you choose, note that anchovies are a semi-preserve; because they'd break down in the heat, they're not sterilised in the same way as, say, baked beans, so their shelf life is considerably more limited. Keep them in the fridge, but be sure to bring them up to room temperature an hour before you plan to serve them.

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