The little saltwater fish known as anchovies are found in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. They have become a delicacy with their unique flavor and soft texture. Although the fish are sold as canned fillets salted in brine, matured, and packed in oil or salt, they can also be found in a paste form.
If you’re not keen on purchasing an entire tube of anchovy paste for a single recipe or can’t find any in-store, there are some easy to come by alternatives you can use instead. If you’re an avid home cook, you probably already have at least one of these in the pantry. Before we get to the best anchovy paste substitutes, let’s clear up some things about this interesting and unusual ingredient.
What is Anchovy Paste?
If you don’t like seeing fish in your dish or want a smoother way to add umami to sauces, dressings, and soups, anchovy paste is a great alternative to whole anchovy fillets. Anchovy paste is a blend of ground anchovies together with vinegar, spice, water or oil, and a little sugar.
It is mostly available in a tube form but can sometimes be purchased in a small tub or can.
Since anchovies are cured before making the paste, it ends up being a very salty product.
Naturally, it tastes fishy on its own, however, when adding it in the right amount to sauces, dressings, marinades, and stews it won’t necessarily bring an overwhelmingly fishy flavor. Instead, it brings a secret ingredient that no one may be able to identify with loads of umami and sophisticated savoriness when cooked.
Anchovy paste is most well-known for its addition to salad dressings, pasta sauces, and egg dishes. It is a popular Italian ingredient also adorning canapes, hors d’oeuvres, and toast. Besides these uses, the paste can also be used in steak, barbecue, and chicken marinades, meatballs, meatloaf, stews, dips, gravy, and even Bloody Marys instead of celery salt.
Thinning the paste with a little olive oil or lemon juice makes a great glaze when cooking any vegetable dishes. Keep in mind that the paste is very salty so you can significantly reduce the addition of salt in dishes that include this in the ingredient list.
Best Replacement for Anchovy Paste
Since anchovy fillets are the main ingredient in the paste, they make an ideal substitute for anchovy paste. This is obviously not a suitable substitute when cooking for vegetarians, but if that is not a concern this is one of the best replacements to use. The fillets are usually easy to find in general grocery stores canned or in a small glass jar.
The fillets don’t go through the same curing process and are packed in oil and salt. This means they have a different taste, can be very salty, and may also have a slightly more fishy flavor than the paste. Some versions may be packed in vinegar which is slightly milder. To make your own anchovy paste, mash the drained oil-packed fillets with a little vinegar, olive oil, and spices.
Substitution tip: One fillet is equal to half a teaspoon of paste. Mashed anchovies will be stronger so add with caution. Since it has a pungent taste and salty flavor it is best to start with a smaller amount and add gradually if needed.
If you taste Worcestershire sauce for the first time without knowing its ingredients you will most likely not guess that it actually contains anchovies. With no fishy taste, it adds a great depth of flavor to meat marinades, sauces, dressings, and stews.
It has strong notes of vinegar, a bit sweet and saltines with hints of clove and spice. It’s usually easy to find at any grocery store and can be used in a wide range of dishes from eggs and meat to vegetables and salads – so it won’t easily go wasted.
Substitution tip: Although you can use the same amount of Worcestershire sauce as an alternative in your recipe, it is best to add to taste gradually for seasonings, Caesar dressing, and liquids to prevent the flavors from becoming overpowering rather than just enhancing the depth of your dish.
See more: Worcestershire sauce substitutes
Asian Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is popular in Asian cooking and is often used in fried rice, noodles, and soups or broth together with soy sauce. It has a pungent flavor and aroma which is best avoided in salads and is definitely not suitable for pizza, but when used in suitable quantities it is ideal for meat, stews, sauces, stock, and braises. It will add a savory, earthy flavor and bring a lot of depth.
Substitution tip: Since it has a strong aroma and taste, use only half the amount as a replacement. If your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste, only use half a teaspoon of fish sauce. Too much and your dish can quickly turn from an umami flavor fiesta to something even your dog might frown at.
See more: fish sauce alternatives
These pea-sized green caper buds make an ideal vegetarian option. They are pickled in salt and vinegar and bottled in small jars to add to salads, sauces, and fish dishes. Their strong briny and somewhat sharp taste make them a fitting substitute and since they are plant buds they don’t have any fishiness to them.
Drain some of the liquid before adding the capers. If you don’t want a strong vinegar or acidic pop to your dish you can rinse the capers to remove some of the pickling brine.
Substitution tip: Add just slightly more capers than anchovy paste called for in your recipe. Use half a tablespoon of capers for 1 teaspoon of paste. Besides being delicious in Caesar salad dressing, hot and cold fish dishes, salads, creamy potato or egg dishes, and sauces, they can also be used in pasta, canapes, and chicken dishes.
See more: substitute for capers
Shrimp paste, also called shrimp or prawn sauce, is mostly used in Asian cuisine. It is crushed and salted krill or shrimp left to ferment for a few weeks. The flavor, saltiness, color, and texture may vary slightly according to the specific types but in general, it has a very strong smell, intensified shrimp taste, and is very salty.
Shrimp paste is used in stews, stir-fry, Asian curries, sauces, vegetable, and tofu dishes. Due to its funky saltiness, depth of flavor, and consistency it makes a good anchovy replacement.
Substitution tip: Shrimp sauce should only be used in cooked dishes so it won’t be suitable for dressings or salads. Use it as a replacement measure for measure. Since it can have a strong taste, you may need to adjust some other ingredients in your recipe and avoid adding too much additional salt.
Olives are another vegan option, specifically kalamata’s. They’re briny and some are cured in red wine vinegar. Although they don’t necessarily offer the same intense salty punch they do have quite a prominent flavor adding a unique depth to dishes.
They don’t need to be cooked which means they are ideal for salads. They can be used in cooked dishes as well including pasta, pizza, chicken, and vegetables. As with capers, this option will also add a different texture.
Substitution tip: Use one tablespoon of chopped olives for every teaspoon of anchovy paste as a replacement.
Umeboshi is a condiment of brined or pickled plums known to Japanese cuisine. It is safe for vegetarians and generally accompanies rice. Although the taste is different it does bring an intense salty and somewhat acidic flavor which makes it a good replacement. You will most commonly find this at an Asian specialty store.
Substitution tip: Add only half the amount of umeboshi than anchovy paste required when using it as a substitute to avoid changing the flavor profile of your dish.
Sardines are not a good choice to use as an anchovy alternative for two reasons. Firstly, they don’t break down and melt into your dish the same way anchovies do and, secondly, they don’t have the same flavor intensity. Sardines remain meatier in texture when cooked and won’t give your dish the same umami oomph.
Yes. Just like canned tuna, you can eat canned anchovies as they come or add them to toast, crackers, or salad.
When cooked into a dish it won’t have a fishy taste but rather brings a salty depth.
The strong aroma and taste of anchovies on their own can be off-putting for people who don’t like fish, however anchovy paste is a great way to get some powerful and savory yet non-fishy flavors into your dish.
If you’re cooking for a vegetarian or vegan olives, capers, and umeboshi paste are ideal replacements. For non-vegetarian options fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce are great for dressings, sauces, stews, and soups. Since all these ingredients have intense flavors, always keep tasting to maintain the right balance.
*image by phb.cz/depositphotos