Fried anchovies or boquerones fritos is one of the simplest and most popular tapas you will find in Spain. You only need to coat fresh anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) with flour and deep-fry them in olive oil. Definitely a very tasty tapa with a crispy surface and a warm, steamy and delicate mouthwatering interior.
As mentioned in our recipe pescaíto, fried fish dates back to ancient times and it is on the coasts of the Mediterranean where it’s more widely consumed, or at least more famous. Of all the great variety of fish that are customarily eaten fried probably the most popular in Spain is the anchovy. We really love fried anchovies, but also anchovies in vinegar or anchovies battered and deep-fried.
Fried anchovies from Málaga or the ones from the ancient city of Cádiz are very well-known, but nearly as much are those served in Granada, in Cantabria or even in Madrid. In other words, there is hardly any area in Spain where you can’t enjoy this fishy tapa.
Regarding the anchovies, it is said that the smaller ones are the best. On the other hand, the type of oil to be used is usually a matter of debate. Some experts advise to use olive oil while others state that, in order to preserve the authentic flavor of the fish, it is advisable to use a more neutrally flavored oil such as sunflower oil. We, at School of Tapas, only use olive oil… But of course!
The type of flour is another great dilemma. Some recommend using very finely ground white wheat flour, others would use durum wheat flour —a very common type of flour in Andalusia—, while still others would recommend the use of chickpea flour, sometimes mixed with all-purpose flour. In this recipe, we have used durum wheat flour.
- 24 fresh anchovies
- Durum wheat flour
- Olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Lemon wedges for garnish
- Open the belly of the anchovies running your thumb along the belly and remove innards.
- Cut off the head and thoroughly dry the anchovies with paper towels.
- Heat plenty of oil in a deep fry pan or deep-fryer, see recommended temperatures in our tips below.
- Dredge a batch of five or six anchovies into a bowl with durum wheat flour and shake it off vigorously.
- Tip the fish and flour immediately on a strainer and shake it to remove the excess flour from the fish.
- Fry them immediately and take them out with a slotted spoon as soon as they are a pale golden color.
- Sprinkle some salt and let them rest on a sieve or on kitchen paper before serving them in a serving dish.
- Keep on dredging and deep-frying the rest of anchovies but always in batches.
- Garnish with lemon wedges.
Tips for perfect Spanish fried anchovies or boquerones fritos:
- We prefer to remove the heads of our anchovies, but in Spain, you will find more than one place where they do not take them off. We leave that up to you.
- Rinse the fish or not? That is a good question. I do not like to rinse out the fish —I do not do it with meat either— but if it is important for you, do it.
- There is no need to pat the fish dry thoroughly before dredging it in the flour, a little moisture will help the flour adhere to the skin.
- Always apply the heat to the deep fry pan (or deep-fryer) after pouring the oil, never before; this way you avoid burning the oil and have a better control of the temperature.
- You may not like to use olive oil for its particular flavor, even in Spain there are many people who prefer to use cooking oils with more neutral flavors —they do not know what they’re missing— so that we recommend to use the one you are used to.
- Do not let the anchovies rest for long in the bowl of flour because an excess of flour will cling to the fish and that will spoil your anchovies… we beg you to follow this rule, please.
- We love to eat the anchovies with our hands, it is even an art to know how to eat them and leave the bone intact… It is definitely great finger food!
The ideal temperature of the oil varies between 350 and 375º F (176-190º C), but if you do not have much experience in making fritanga —a Spanish word for fried food— and controlling oil temperatures, we advise you to have a kitchen thermometer at hand.
Finally, enjoy a piping hot tapa of fried anchovies or boquerones fritos garnished with some lemon wedges, an assortment of Spanish breadsticks and a very cold glass of beer.