I remember having anchovies or nethili/netholi, as we call it, occasionally while growing up. Nethili kuzhambu or anchovies curry cooked with potatoes was a favourite dish while growing up. But since fresh anchovies are hard to come by where we live, my mother used to cook with the sun-dried anchovies that are more saltish in taste and smaller in appearance. A couple of years ago, I got the opportunity to eat these large fresh anchovies and I have to say - what a difference! These fresh anchovies were perfectly seasoned and fried with utmost care. They were served with hot and spicy prawn curry (which is my most favourite seafood by the way), but even the spicy jumbo prawns paled in comparison to the anchovies. I never thought anchovies could be that tasty until then. Ever since eating that dish, I have been to wanting make some myself and the situation only presented itself recently when we got some large, frozen anchovies from a store in a nearby city.
Anchovies are a good source of calcium if eaten with the bones. You can also replace the anchovies with other small fishes, if anchovies are scarce in your area. Learning how to prepare anchovies is good step for beginners like me, who are daunted by the herculean task of cleaning a fish (scaling, beheading, gutting, cutting and/or filleting). This one is relatively easy to prepare in that sense. So let's begin. :)
20 fresh or frozen large anchovies
1-2 garlic cloves
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp red chili powder (adjust)
1/4 tsp (or a pinch of) turmeric powder
1 spring of curry leaves
Salt to taste
Water as required
Coconut oil for deep-frying
Clean the anchovies and pinch/remove the head and make sure the gut comes off as well. Cut and grind ginger and garlic finely. Make a smooth paste out of all the ingredients, except the egg and the curry leaves, by mixing with a little water. Add the paste to the anchovies, the curry leaves and mix well. Allow the anchovies to marinade for one hour. If you want to marinade the anchovies for longer, keep them in the fridge. Beat and whisk an egg. Add half of it (or less) to the anchovies and mix carefully, prior to frying the anchovies. The egg mixture will help giving the anchovies a more crispy exterior, if well coated. You can exclude it, if you want to.
Heat some coconut oil for deep-frying at medium heat. The oil needs to be really hot to get crisply fried anchovies. If the oil is not hot enough the anchovies will get all greasy/oily and soggy. It will also absorb more oil if it is not hot enough. So don't rush and let the oil get hot. I can't help you with the temperature, as I do not have a thermometer. Drop a curry leaf or an anchovy to check if the oil is hot enough. The curry leaf should turn out crispy. Fry the fish in small batches. Fry until brown and crispy. Drain the excessive oil by placing a tissue paper or an absorbent paper underneath the fried fish. Serve them crispy with anything of your choice!