Monday, February 4, 2013


The director of my kids school is one of the nicest woman I have met in Italy.  She has taken such great care of my children both in school and out of school.  She is genuine, kind-hearted and fun loving.

During the holiday season, she invited us to come over for dinner.  She wanted to prepare alici
 - a typical Napolitano delicacy that is really nothing more than fried anchovies.  But they are not the kind from the can...they are fresh anchovy that are filleted and fried.  Street vendors and walkup windows in Naples sell these fried treats in paper cones and they are quite popular here.  What she didn't tell me when I arrived for dinner is that the kids and I were going to prepare them!

We get to her home and she showed me about a kilo of alici that have been beheaded at least.  All I had to do was pull out their spines and then hand them to the kids to flour them.  At about the age of 6  I had a bit of a traumatic experience with fish.  My grandma handed me a knife as big as my arm and told me that if I were going to continue to catch fish all day, I was going to have to clean them.  She showed me how to slice the fish open and clean out the guts.  It made me quite nervous to even hold the knife...not to mention actually clean the fish.  Now, I'm bold in the kitchen.  But when someone hands me a nice ziplock bag of fresh caught fish, I usually graciously accept them, put them in the freezer for months until they develop a nice coat of freezer burn and sadly, toss them when I purge the fridge semi-annually.  I just haven't been interested.  I'll cook salmon steaks and anything else that's already filleted and prepared, but I don't start with something that appears to be looking at me!

Our daughters flouring the alici

Katia preparing salmon in the fireplace

So here I am.  I can't be a wimp!  I have to do this, lest I carry on the badge of shame, fearing fish to my kids!  So I pull out those spines one at a time.  I think something changed.  My swedish fisherman ancestry must have taken over because I was not even grossed out. I just did it!  I pulled out the spines and my kids happily floured them!  We proudly handed over the dozens of filleted and floured fish to my good friend and the end result of frying was absolutely delicious!  I found myself standing next to the plate eating them as they came hot out of the oil as if they were popcorn.

Meanwhile she was cooking salmon in the fireplace!  She is my hero!

Heat the house and cook at the same time!

Salmon deboned!

This particular evening my hubby was not able to join us.  He was working.  So I told him I would make these wonderful little goodies for him all by myself!  I went to the Ipercoop (local supermarket) and there were NO ALICI!  Went to a smaller market called Deco and there were none.  I looked for weeks and everyone was out of these little fish!  :(

So almost two months later I'm strolling through the supermarket and happen across the fish counter.  Speaking little Italian I'm sometimes intimidated to get my number and fuddle my way through, but today there was no one in line so I walked up to the lady and asked for mezzo kilo di alici.  She happily plops the fish into a bag for me.  I then get brave and try to test out my italian skills in some small talk.  I try to tell her that I have waited a long time for the store to get alici.  She responds in Italian, "No, they don't take long to cook.  Just a few seconds in the oil to fry!"  Uh, she didn't understand.  I try again, she said she didn't understand me.  Then I try a third time and she finally got it, I think!  She said that they had the alici prepared in tomato sauce and such but not fresh!  Yes!  Fish and smalltalk.  A successful trip to the store.

Alici Fresche

So I take the little guys home and dump their little lifeless bodies into a bowl of water.  I stare at their eyes, making sure they look clear.  Pretty sure I read somewhere that fresh fish should have clear eyes.  They were crystal clear!  Channelling my Swedish ancestors I muster up the bravery to cut off the first head.  I did it!  The guts seemed to pull open the belly all on their own and they were clean!  I pulled out the spine of the first fish and it came clean out.  "ME VIKING! ME CAN DO THIS!"  After a few more I was finding it difficult to pull the spines without losing too much meat.  These were large anchovies, but I tell you, once you clean them and fry them, they are less than two bites!  Losing meat is not good.  I decided to cut off all their heads and stick them back in the water.  In a second pass I took out their spines.  It seemed as though letting them soak helped release the bones.  I don't know if there is any science to back that claim up though.

Filleted Alici

Then I set the little filets on a plate before taking pass three to flour them.  That went very well and they were sent to the oil in no time.  A quick pass through the hot oil, a dusting of sea salt and into the mouth they go!  They were tender and delicious!  My family ate them so quickly that I barely got a photo of a few of them!

Fried Alici

I posted a picture of my fish (with heads) on Facebook and an Italian woman commented suggesting that next time I add breadcrumbs to the flour to thicken it a bit and add some yummy texture.  I think next time I would try this.  But I also think you should all try this.  That is all there is to making alici!  

Here's an approximate recipe.

Recipe:  Alici Fresche Fritte (Fried Fresh Anchovies)
1 lb of fresh anchovies
Flour and breadcrumbs for flouring
Olive Oil
Salt (any kind will do but I recommend fine ground sea salt)
Lemon (Optional.  Napolitani don't add lemon usually as it can make the fish soggy, but you can if you desire)

Prepare the anchovy as described above - remove heads and guts, then debone.  Slide a thumb starting at the head side of the fish between the spine and the body.  Once loosened, grab the spine and pull back toward the tail.  Sometimes the tail will come off, sometimes it will stay intact.  It won't make a difference as it's edible.

Pass the fish into the flour and/or flour and breadcrumb mixture.  I didn't bother with egg but you certainly can as it may make for a thicker coating.

Heat the oil to very hot on the stove and pass fish quickly through it.  Not more than just 5-10 seconds. They will be cooked all the way through.  

Salt the hot anchovy fillets and serve immediately!

Buon Appetito!  Leave me a comment and let me know if you will try it!  I'd love to hear about your experience!


  1. I can't wait for you to do these again, they were awesome! :-)

  2. I can't wait for you to do these again, they were awesome! :-)