Dried anchovies are the result of a process in which the small fish are caught, salt cured and then dried for preservation. The dried anchovy is a popular ingredient in many types of Southeast Asian dishes. From Southern India to Korea and Japan, dried anchovies are regularly used to add flavor to soups and stews, and they are enjoyed as a fast snack, condiment or side dish. Although the dried anchovy is known by several names, the process of curing and air drying the fish is consistent across the area. Both industrial fishing companies and artisanal fisherman create dried anchovies.
A dried anchovy is available in a variety of sizes, some better suited to certain uses than others. The smallest anchovies, measuring less than 3 inches (7.62 cm) in length, are best used whole in side dishes, used as a garnish or eaten as a snack. Large anchovies are preferred for stocks and other bases in which they will provide more flavor. Even though it is a purely personal preference, small anchovies generally are used whole, with the head and intestines intact. The larger anchovies sometimes have the head and intestines removed, mostly because some people feel that these sections can impart an "off" flavor to the dish.
In Southern India, a dried anchovy is known as a kozhuva. It can be used to add flavor to soups or can be made into an anchovy curry called kozhuva meen tilappicathu. The robust fishing industry in areas of Southern India, especially regions such as Kerala, means that fish and anchovies are readily available and inexpensive to use in cooking.
In Southeast Asia, a dried anchovy is called ikan bilis. It is popularly used as a flavoring in fish stocks. Anchovies also are fried with garlic or peppers to create a crispy snack. Ikan bilis is a primary ingredient in some variations of the spicy chili condiment known as sambal. The smallest dried anchovies can be coated with sugar and sesame seeds, creating a sweet treat.
A fine powder can be formed by grinding down the dried anchovy. This powder can be used in soups or as a spice and has a much milder flavor than the whole anchovy. The ground anchovy powder contains a high concentration of calcium because of the bones of the fish, and it can be used to create a healthy tea.
In a package at room temperature, dried anchovies can last for up to one year. If they are placed in a freezer, they can last significantly longer. Any dried anchovies that have been in storage for too long will impart very little or no flavor to any dishes to which they are added.