Anchovies are also known as Ikan bilis in Malaysian.
Anchovies are small, salt-water fish and are easily found is most parts of the world. They are important in Asian as well as Mediterranean cuisines.
In Asia, we would eat them differently to Australia. The traditional method of processing and preserving anchovies in Asia is to salt them and dry them under the sun, and then eat them whole – including the head, bones and tail; of course, we would usually gut them before cooking and eating.
Growing up, we used to have to gut the anchovies ourselves; however, nowadays, most dried anchovies that I come across have already been gutted. So all we need to do is wash and cook them.
In my family, or mostly in Malaysia, we usually use ikan bilis as stock or deep fry them and serve as a crunchy topping. We also eat them whole with sambal in nasi lemak. As for stock, instead of using chicken/meat bones, we substitute ikan bilis as an alternate source of protein and umami flavour.
I use ikan bilis as stock over here in Australia most of the time, especially for a steamboat stock. The reason is that it is less oily, and we will be adding meat and seafood to the steamboat later on anyway.
I did a mini survey on Nyonyalicious Facebook page recently on how to use Ikan Bilis – and here are some of the great ideas on how to use dried anchovies in your daily cooking.
Linda Y- Soup base and stir fly with vegetables
Renee G – Sambal ikan bilis
Jenn T – Stir fry with vegetables
Dina A – Nasi goreng ikan bilis
Another use: Simple recipe for babies when they are first starting solids
When my children started solids, I used to cook porridge for them using ikan bilis as stock for the added sweetness. For example – pork porridge, I would boil the ikan bilis in the water together with rice. Once the rice had softened, I would add some pork fillet and vegetables, such as broccoli or cauliflower and carrots.
When all ingredients are cooked and softened, remove the anchovies and then blend the porridge. I use this method for fish porridge as well. This way, there is no need to further add salt or any flavouring to the porridge, as the dried anchovies have some salt from the preservation stage, and they also provide the sweetness/ umami flavour for the porridge.
How long can you keep the dried ikan bilis?
Ikan bilis is already dried, so a pack can be kept in a cool dry area for up to 1-2 years (by use-by-date), or I usually keep them in the fridge or freezer. They will last for quite a while.
This is how I would normally preserve my ikan bilis
When the weather is good, i.e. hot and sunny, wash the anchovies and dry under the sun. Once they are dried, keep in a clean container (I use a plastic bag) and keep them in the fridge. This way, the next time when I use the anchovies, I do not have to wash and dry them again.