Vamos de tapas! Los boquerones en vinagre por favor! Nothing is more typical during the summer in Spain than a plate of anchovies marinated in vinegar served with a cold beer. From north to south, these little fish are like a common treat served in every tapas bar in the country.
Anchovy is a small blue fish that gives its best between April and September and is fished in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. In Spanish, anchovies can be translated to anchoas, bocarte, or boquerones.
What is the difference between anchoas, bocarte, and boquerones?
They are indeed the same fish. The main difference is that the version of marinated salted anchovies, those found on the pizza for example, is called anchoas whereas the vinegar or fried versions of fresh anchovies are called boquerones en vinagre or boquerones fritos. Anchoa and bocarte are the words for anchovies in Spanish, but they are more used in northern Spain. In the south, people use more the term boquerones.
What are boquerones en vinagre?
Boquerones in vinegar are a traditional and very popular tapa in Spain. Each family has at least one chef who prepares these tasty white anchovies in brine, garnishing them with fresh garlic and parsley. It’s an easy recipe, and the hardest part is waiting for the fish to marinate.
As it is a recipe made from raw fish, it is strongly recommended to freeze the anchovies after cleaning and gutting to avoid any possibility of disease. Anisakis, a fish-specific parasite that can cause a human disease called anisakiasis, is not killed with vinegar pickling. To avoid this, the fish must be frozen, without guts or head, for 48 hours, at a temperature between -4 and 0 F, before the preparation of boquerones. If you consume commercially available canned marinated anchovies, it is strongly advised that the label indicates that this freezing process has been carried out.
What is the origin of boquerones en vinagre?
The story goes that the conservation of these small fish with salt or vinegar dates back to more than 3000 years ago; there was a city with a rich civilization, cultivated and very advanced in Andalusia, the Kingdom of Tartessos, in the eighth century BC.
This Kingdom is the ancient kingdom of the south of the Iberian Peninsula. Tartessos was the name given by the Greeks to the first Western civilization. Obviously, they were the heirs of megalithic culture. They dominated the bronze, writing, breeding, mining, fishing and were real experts in salt exploitation, with the salt helping with food preservation.
They were reckless travelers. The Tartessian ships and their loot have even reached the British Isles, as well as the north of France.
The Phoenicians, attracted by the enormous wealth of this ancient Andalusian empire, arrived on the Spanish coast, around 1100 BC, and founded cities, such as Gádir (Cadiz), Abdera (Adra, Almeria), Carteia (Algeciras), Mainake (thought to be the current Velez Málaga) and Malaca (Málaga). They imposed themselves on the Tartessians.
The preparation of the boquerones is closely linked to the tradition of salt fish and vinegar of all these villages and towns. It was a way of keeping the fish for a long time, without it spoiling or smelling bad. These first settlers from the coasts of Malaga and southern Spain communicated to the Spaniards an infinite love for the sea and its products.
According to other historical theories, boquerones en vinagre are born of two basic human needs: to preserve food and to follow certain religious precepts. Since ancient time, this little fish has been preserved thanks to the help of salt, smoke, or acid and our boquerones en vinagre are not far behind.
The fact that it is necessary to preserve the fish in the absence of refrigerator follows the religious precept of the Sephardic Jews, present in Spain until the 15th century, to eat fish on Friday evening, during Shabbat. Drying and salting being longer than the marinade process, the boquerones en vinagre were born. Fishing anchovies the days before Friday has led the Jews of Spain to keep them in vinegar in a simple way to enjoy them during Shabbat, or otherwise with the addition of olive oil, parsley and, the inevitable ingredient of Spanish cuisine, chopped garlic.
According to La Historia de la Cocina Sefardí (“History of Sephardic Cuisine”) by Pepe Iglesias, anchovies in vinegar are a typical dish of Sephardic Jewish cuisine.
Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain by Catholic kings. But before that date, the Jews, whose settlement in the peninsula was earlier than that of the Romans, coexisted peacefully with them and, later, with the Visigothic and Christian kings. Jewish cooking is rigorously regulated by Kashrut, sacred writings that stipulate what Jews are allowed to eat.
In Spain, although the gastronomic traditions are very interesting in the north, (Catalonia and the Basque countries count among the regions of the highest gastronomic quality and the most professional of Europe), it is probably Andalusia, which is the region where you eat the best because eating well rhymes with living well. The Andalusian gastronomy is the fruit of peasant and maritime traditions of the region.
Fish: the star ingredient of Spanish cuisine
The famous Spanish fishing practice is the absolute star of traditional Andalusian cuisine. The fish is cheap and tasty, prepared according to various recipes from a thousand species of blue fish, shellfish and fried crustaceans, to be served with an ice-cold beer or sangria.
A part of the fishery can include any small fish or seafood: for example, the chanquetes (smelt), salmonettes (mullet), pescadillas (whiting), calamares, camarónes (shrimps), are all seafood that are very often prepared a la brasa (grilled), a la plancha, or simply fried. Not to mention the famous sardinas espetos, a skewer of reed on which sardines are grilled! Grilled sardines (sardinhas assadas) are also popular in Portugal.
How to make boquerones en vinagre
It is possible that your fishmonger offers to clean and filet the boquerones. Otherwise, do not panic, there is nothing simpler!
Take the anchovy with the left hand at the center of the body and, with the right-hand thumb and forefinger, take the head and pull forward until it breaks. Then pass the forefinger in the belly of the anchovy to delicately remove all the entrails of the fish.
Push on the spine with your thumb, pressing towards the tail to separate the two loins a little and carefully pull the backbone by breaking it at the height of the tail so that the two loins remain attached (or separate two loins).
Rinse the anchovies to drain the blood and let dry.
Although the birth of boquerones in vinegar is undeniably linked to the south of Spain, there is currently no authentic tapas bar that does not have these delicious small anchovies on its menu.
Never accompany boquerones with wine though. Vinegar and wine do not mix well in the mouth. Enjoy this traditional and authentic boquerones recipe.
Salud y viva España!
Boquerones en vinagre are traditional tapas from Southern Spain that consist of marinated anchovies seasoned with garlic and parsley.
- 1 lb fresh anchovies
- 2 cloves garlic , whole
- 2 cloves garlic , pressed
- 1 bunch parsley , chopped
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoon kosher salt
- Olive oil
- Place anchovies in a bowl. Rinse fish.
- One by one, cut off the head of the anchovies with a sharp knife. Most of the internal organs should come with the head.
- Then cut the anchovies lengthwise from the head to the tail.
- Remove the backbone, along with the rest of the organs.
Spread the anchovies, rinse and place in a non-metallic bowl (traditionally a ceramic or earthenware bowl). Repeat for all the anchovies.
- Dissolve the salt in the vinegar in a bowl.
- Cover the anchovies with the salted vinegar.
- Cover the bowl of anchovies with a lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Drain anchovies and rinse them with plenty of water. Remove the fish from the bowl and wipe them one by one with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Place a layer of anchovies in the bowl with the skin down.
- After each layer, pour olive oil, garlic and parsley.
- Continue to add the anchovies, one layer at a time.
- Cover with olive oil. Place in the fridge for at least 2 days.
- Anchovies can be stored for up to 3 weeks. Ensure that they are always covered with a layer of oil that helps preserve them.
- They can be eaten on a toast.