To save time and avoid fuss, swap anchovy paste or fish sauce for small amounts of minced fillets.
The salty little fish are a potent source of glutamates and inosinates, substances that enhance savory depth in food. Finely minced so that they distribute evenly throughout the dish, anchovies can bump up flavor without ever announcing their presence.
In these instances, we typically call for just a few fillets. So we wondered if we could save ourselves the trouble of opening a whole can (and the fuss of mincing the fish) by substituting anchovy paste from a tube or even fish sauce instead. That way, we could use as much or as little as we needed.
After determining an equivalency for both products, we subbed them into various recipes. Our conclusion: While such a swap is possible, we don’t recommend it in all cases.
In applications such as Caesar salad where anchovies are used in a relatively high concentration (our recipe calls for 6 fillets mashed into a paste)—and provide a defining flavor of the dish versus a subtle savory backbone—tasters much preferred the actual fillets.
They deemed anchovy paste, which is made by pureeing anchovies with salt and oil, to be overpoweringly salty in the Caesar dressing and lack the same complexity as fillets. Meanwhile, pungent fish sauce (typically made from fermented anchovies) was a little too fishy and brought metallic notes.
However, both anchovies and fish sauce were acceptable in recipes such as Italian-Style Turkey Meatballs, where they gave both the tomato sauce and the turkey added meatiness. We also found that in our Best Beef Stew, where a modest amount of anchovy is intended to subtly bolster the meaty flavor, both products made an acceptable substitute for fresh minced anchovy fillets.
THE TAKEAWAY: Go ahead and swap anchovy paste or fish sauce for small amounts of minced fillets—but do so only in recipes in which they play a supporting role.
1 teaspoon of anchovy paste is equal to two minced anchovy fillets and can be a direct substitute for 1 teaspoon of minced anchovy fillets.
1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce is equal to one minced anchovy fillet.