I understand that anchovies are a controversial choice of fish and a vast majority of people find them polarizing, but cooked properly, their flavour is unrivalled. These spicy fried anchovies are the ultimate side dish in South India (fried in coconut oil in Kerala and either groundnut or other flavourless oil in Tamil Nadu and other states). This Keralan version is what I prefer, and for me, the flavour of coconut oil makes the dish.
This is what one would call nose-to-tail eating: you fry the whole fish, head-to-tail, with the tiny bones and everything. Anchovies—due to their diminutive size—have small bones that crisp up really well when fried.
The anchovies are marinated for several hours or overnight (preferably, but don’t fret if you don’t have the time; they can be used right away too) and then dusted in a semolina-rice flour coating before being fried. Using semolina is a neat trick I picked up from a cooking show – the little flecks that stick to the fish mean more crispy bits. Are you into crispy bits? I am so into crispy bits.
After I cook the fish, I throw in a few sprigs of curry leaves, stalks and all, into the hot oil. I then scrunch up the crispy shards in my hand and use as a garnish. —Kirthana | Theblurrylime
Add minced garlic, minced ginger, chilli powder, turmeric powder, and salt to a large bowl and mix to a thick paste. Fingers are best for this job. Tip in the anchovies and toss to coat all the pieces evenly. Leave to marinate for at least two hours (or overnight for best results). If you are short on time, it can be used right away.
Heat coconut oil over medium heat. Mix semolina and corn flour together on a plate and set aside.
Take a few pieces of the fish and dredge them in the semolina-corn flour mixture before dropping them into the oil. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the anchovies for 1-2 minutes until golden and transfer to a paper towel. Repeat in batches.
Once the anchovies are all fried, drop the sprigs of curry leaves into the oil until they crisp up. Make sure to stand back for this step as the curry leaves will pop and sputter. Drain on paper towels.
To serve, I like to scrunch up some of the crispy curry leaves in my hand and use as a garnish for the anchovies. Serve with lemon wedges.