Sfineġ tal-Inċova are a fluffy yet crunchy Maltese speciality traditionally eaten during the Lent period, specifically on Good Friday. Basically, they are a fried dough ball with an anchovy on the inside.
If I had to give you a list of all the traditional Maltese food, a good part of it would be made of food that is enjoyed during Lent. I know, it is a bit contradictory. During lent you are supposed to restrict and limit certain foods, however, it seems that in the past Maltese liked to still have options and be able to enjoy plenty of foods. This resulted in several dishes which are traditionally specifically eaten during this time of year; such as kwareżimal, karamelli tal-ħarrub, qagħaq tal-appostli, qassatat with spinach and anchovies, spinach and tuna pies, and of course these sfineġ.
Sfineġ are associated with Rabat as during Good Friday you find stalls selling them on every corner. Most probably, the sfineġ, as many other Maltese foods, came to Malta from our closest neighbours, the Sicilians. In fact in Sicily, they have the sfinci which are basically the same, yet they are served on Christmas Eve. The same thing can be said about St Joseph’s Zeppoli which are, as the name suggests, served on the feast and the days close to St Joseph’s feast. However, there’s a difference between the two! Zeppoli are a sweet fried dough ball which are filled with a sweet ricotta filling, whereas sfineġ are the salty cousin that contains fish!
How to make the Sfineġ
Making the sfineġ is exceptionally easy and fun! All you have to do is prepare the batter with flour, yeast, sugar, and water. Then, when almost ready, season with salt and pepper and any herb you want to flavour it with, the most used is parsley. The batter has to be really stretchy and stringy. Let it rest for two hours, so that it doubles in size and it’s all bubbly. When ready to cook, prepare the anchovies and heat up the oil. To test the oil, if you don’t have a thermometer (170°C), simply drop a small amount of the batter in the oil. If it pops up to the top and starts to puff up immediately, it means that the oil is ready; if not, give it more time to warm up.
Cook the sfineġ by taking a tablespoon and grab some of the batter, add the anchovy and with another tablespoon cover the anchovy with the dripping batter. Make sure to cover the anchovy, and drop gently into the hot oil. Each fritter takes about 3 minutes on each side to cook. It’s important that you don’t overcrowd the pan as the sfineġ need plenty of space to cook in as they puff up a lot while cooking.
Another option, is to use ready made bread dough. You have to cut into pieces and place a piece of anchovy in the middle, roll up and fry. However, with this method the cooking time might take longer as the dough is much more denser.
In this recipe here I’m making the sfineġ with anchovies, which are specifically served on Good Friday. However, sfineġ can also be made with cod (sfineġ tal-bakkaljaw). These, on the contrary, apart from being served during Lent, are much more easily found all year round. To make the cod sfineġ all you have to do is, to place in the middle some steamed slated cod – instead of anchovy – and fry.
Sfineġ tal-Inċova – Traditional Maltese Anchovy Fritters
- 250 g plain flour 2 cups
- 250 ml lukewarm water 1 cup
- 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast 5 g
- 1/2 tsp sugar 3 g
- 1/2 tsp salt 3 g
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 10 anchovies cut in half
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped
- In a large bowl, start by activating the yeast in lukewarm water together with the sugar. Let them activate for about 5 minutes.
- Add the flour to the yeast mixture and mix well. It has to be really loose without any clumps. It should look like a stretchy batter. If your consistency is more dough-like add more water.
- Once you achieve the desired consistency, add the salt, pepper and parsley and mix well.
- Cover the bowl and let it rest for about 2 hours in a warm place. The batter should be all bubbly and double in size.
- Fill a large pot with vegetable oil, pour enough oil so that the sfineġ have enough space to cook in, about 7 cm. Heat the oil to about 170°C.
- Cut the anchovies in half and set aside.
- Using two table spoons, grab some batter on the spoon and place a piece of the anchovy in the middle. With the other spoon grab from the sides the dripping batter and place it on top of the anchovy so that you cover it. Gently drop the batter with the anchovy in the oil. You will know if the oil is hot enough, as when you drop the batter it should rise to the top and starts puffing immediately. The cooking time should take about 3 minutes on each side of the fritter or until they achieve a nice golden colour.
- Repeat and continue to fry until all the batter is used. It's important to leave plenty of space between each fritter so that they don't stick together.
- Drain the sfineġ from excess oil on some paper towels. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice on top. Enjoy!
If you have any questions, feedback or comments on this recipe, please leave a comment below. Please also rate this recipe by double clicking on the stars below. If you did make this recipe, tag @apronandwhisk and hashtag #apronandwhisk, as I’m curious to see what you create!
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