You won’t find anyone removing them from anything where we went, driving from San Sebastián down the “Anchovy Coast”, an 80km strip of shore that mostly calls the Basque Country (and the Bay of Biscay) home, but also spills over into south western France.
We stopped in Ondarroa, a major port for seafood where the town is built around the fishing industry. You’ll find it about half way between San Sebastián and Bilbao, where it is one of the most important fishing ports along the coast.
Each morning tens of trawlers arrive filled with fish, mostly anchovies but also hake, mackerel and tuna (these kinds of fish love to eat anchovies). Local fishermen unload the best anchovies straight onto trucks and ship them directly to nearby canneries. Canning is an industry started in the 1920s by Italian immigrants who married into Spanish families and saw the potential for preserving the high quality of seafood in the area, which is why many canneries have Italian names.
Ondarroa is home to the some of the most famous brands of canned seafood, including Ortiz Anchovies, and we got the chance to visit a few local anchovy factories.
When the tin says “hand filleted” they’re not kidding, in each factory there are lines of local women filleting each individual anchovy by hand, patting them down into tins then covering them in oil to seal them.
Oil plays an important part in the preservation, whether olive oil, sunflower oil, or a blend of both. Shorter cures are heavy on the olive oil, longer cures use the more neutral (and cheaper) sunflower oil.
Unlike here in Australia, the best tuna and anchovies are canned while the lower grade catch is sold fresh and is consumed mostly by locals. Each local household “cans” their own seafood at home in glass jars, proudly preserving the summer catch for the coming winter.
We were blown away with the quality of the anchovies. Jesse being the anchovy lover he is tried to buy a pallet of them on the spot to bring home. Sadly the language barrier wasn’t one we managed to clamber over and we returned empty handed.