Tuesday, March 19, 2013


As much as I like cooking by myself, cooking with friends is much more fun!

Recently, I met up with a couple friends at our Turkish friend’s house to learn how to make three types of Turkish hamsi (anchovy) dishes. I like eating hamsi at the meyhane, so I figured I finally should learn how to cook it too.

My Turkish friend, Ayşe, and I met through a mutual friend a few months after I moved to Istanbul in 2010. I was new, and my American friend, Sharon, was good at connecting people together. She was like, “You bake, and Ayşe cooks, so you two should meet.”

We’ve both learned a few tricks in the kitchen from each other since we met.

Ayşe, who lived in the U.S. for 20+ years, is an amazing Turkish home cook. Every day, she sends her husband off with a home-cooked lunch for his staff and himself. You can find her teaching cooking lessons through the International Women of Istanbul as well.

I recently hoped she was going to help us demystify the Turkish hamsi, which comes from the Black Sea region of Turkey. As I said, I enjoy eating hamsi, but I can never quite bring myself to buy these little suckers to cook at home myself. These delectable fish are small, and they scare me. (Remember I grew up in Nebraska – the land of cows.)

Ayşe’s menu for that day included the popular hamsi tava (or fried anchovies that arrives at the table like a crispy plate of little fish), hamsi baked in the oven with tomatoes and onions, and hamsi stuffed with Turkish cheddar cheese and parsley and then fried. Anything fried always tastes better, right?

We all took turns trying to clean these little suckers. Ayşe’s helper, Elif, made it look so simple. Break the bone by the head and then pull down, basically deboning and degutting the fish all in one easy stroke. 
Cleaning Turkish hamsi is a messy job, but someone has to do it.
I badly cleaned about seven hamsi and then gave up. If I had kept cleaning them, we would have been eating a hamsi soup instead of hamsi tava!

Spending the day with international friends and cooking together was fun! My favorite dish of the day was and still is the hamsi tava.
Left, hamsi baked with tomatoes and onions, and hamsi tava on the right. All served with traditional cornbread.
Even though Ayşe was a patient and generous teacher, I can honestly say I will never be buying hamsi to cook at home. The deboning, degutting and deheading process was a little too much for me.

But if you want, you can pay the fish guy a few extra lira to do that disgusting work for you.

And if you don’t want to cook hamsi, go to your favorite meyhane now and order them before the season ends. This is what I’ll be doing.

Afiyet olsun!
  
Rough directions for Hamsi Tava or Fried Anchovies
1          kilo                  fresh hamsi (anchovies)
1          Tablespoon      vegetable oil
As needed                   salt
As needed                   cornflour

Wash the fish, break off the heads and degut the fish.
Briefly rinse and drain on paper towels.
Add the oil to a large non-stick pan. (In Turkey, you can even buy special hamsi tava frying pans.)
Season the cornflour with salt. Lightly dredge the fish through the cornflour.
Carefully, lay out the hamsi in a circle, filling the pan, in one single layer.
Over medium-high heat, fry the fish on one side till golden brown (about 3-4 minutes).
Then, carefully flip over the fish (as demonstrated in the photo above) and continue frying the other side until golden brown.
Serve with lemon wedges, a salad and cornbread. 
Stuffing the hamsi with Turkish cheddar cheese and parsley.
I'm very thankful for meeting friends like Ayşe here in Istanbul.

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11 comments:

Julia Cooke said...

This is great! We all love hamsi, even Neve. Definitely an Istanbul favourite.

Joy said...

@Julia, that's great! I have a hard time imagining I would have like hamsi as a kid unless it's something I had grown up with!

Mary Bachmayer said...

Loved all the varieties of hamsi - I must admit, I do like the fried ones best too. These look delicious! So nice to have local friends to show you "the ropes".

jaz@octoberfarm said...

what a fun day. i remember being served smaller ones than these that had been fried but no de-boned. i was in monaco and the people who at them with me used their knives to cut the sides off and eat them. they were good but taxed my patience!

Backto Bodrum said...

I'm with you on the hamsi front - far too fiddly , I'd rather stuff a mushroom.

Joy said...

@Mary, yes, the fried ones are crispy and tasty! :-) I'm very grateful for my local friends and to learn some new recipes.

@Joyce, that's true. Sometimes, when the hamsi are about the size of my pinky, the whole thing is fried. I always pick off the heads bc I can't eat it!

@Annie, yes, far too much work! I'll enjoy them at the meyhane.

Robyn E said...

That's a beautiful looking tava! These must be from the Marmara, bec the Black Sea season ended in Feb. Rest assured cleaning gets easier with practice! (And they sell cleaned and boned anchovies at the Kadikoy market. :) )

Julia said...

Well good on you for having a go at cleaning them yourself. That's Barry's job in our house! :) We're lucky as our fishmonger's pretty generous, too, and cleans them for us if he has time. Ayşe's dishes look just lovely. Needless to say, they're 'pinned'! :)

Joy said...

@Robyn, Thank you! Yes, the tava was crispy and delicious - just as it should be.

@Julia, HA! My husband's banker's hands would never, NEVER clean the hamsi. Hope to get them at the meyhane next week! :-)

Cuisine de Provence said...

I am yearning to eat Hamsi again and I am totally with you Joy - I'd rather go to a nice balik restaurant then clean them myself.

Joy said...

@Barbara, Tis the season! I'll hopefully be eating some hamsi at the meyhane tomorrow nite. :-)

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