Turkish Recipes: Hamsi Season Celebration

We’re in the dying embers of hamsi season in Turkey; that time of the year when millions of shimmering, silver anchovies swim along the Black Sea coast and (most of them) straight into the nets of waiting Turkish fishermen.

The last three times we’ve been up to Istanbul have been during the winter months and so we have revelled in heading straight for the Karaköy fish market at the end of Galata Bridge. We go there for the deep-fried hamsi ekmeği (anchovies served in a half bread with rocket leaves and onion) or plates of hamsi, again served with nothing but a simple salad of crisp rocket leaves and thinly sliced onion. A drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon and it’s just another example of perfection on a plate.

Fresh Hamsi, Black Sea Anchovies

Fresh, prepared hamsi

We were talking about this over the weekend and it lead to an inevitable craving for hamsi. So strong was the craving that we decided to make some for dinner last night. Obviously, it’s never going to be the same experience as sitting by the side of the Golden Horn, watching the passengers spill from the Karaköy ferry as the sun goes down behind Süleymaniye Camii on the opposite side of the water, but it’s still a favourite dish that we really don’t make often enough.

A Turkish Recipe For Deep-Fried Hamsi & Salad

Hamsi is usually sold whole on Fethiye fish market which means you have the fiddly (if you haven’t got the knack) and messy task of gutting and cleaning the fish – you get a lot of fish to the kilo! Head and tail can be left on and eaten – you don’t notice them as the fish are so small. However, if you’re lucky, trays of cleaned and headless hamsi are sometimes for sale on the fish market for a lira or so extra. We went for this easy option yesterday.

We wanted our meal to be slightly reminiscent of Karaköy fish market, so while we were on the big Fethiye market yesterday, we bought a bunch of rocket leaves and some spring onion to go with our hamsi.

  • Wash your rocket leaves and lay them on a large serving plate.
  • Wash and slice your spring onion and sprinkle over the top of the rocket (thinly sliced half moons of a regular onion are good if you have no spring onion).
  • Cut a few cherry tomatoes in halves and quarters and lay these around the plate.
  • Prepare a salad dressing and put it to one side for now. Lemon and olive oil dressing does the trick but, as we were feeling indulgent, I mixed a richer, smoother concoction of a tablespoon of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of mustard, a good glug of olive oil and a generous amount of nar ekşisi (pomegranate molasses). Nar ekşisi goes perfectly with both fish and salad.
Deep Fried Hamsi Recipe

Deep fried hamsi with salad

Now on to the hamsi:

  • Sprinkle plain flour, and a little chilli powder and cumin (these two are optional) onto a plate and tip the hamsi over it. Toss around until all of the hamsi has a light coating.
  • Heat some sunflower oil in a pan suitable for deep-frying.
  • Plunge the hamsi into the hot oil in batches. Fry the hamsi for a minute or so only, otherwise the fish will be overcooked, dry and chewy.
  • Pile the cooked batches of hamsi on kitchen roll to drain while you fry the rest of it.
  • Once all of your your hamsi is cooked, season your salad and drizzle some of the dressing over the top.
  • Now arrange your hamsi over the salad.
Deep Fried Hamsi With Salad

Deep fried hamsi is perfect finger food

Put your favourite film on. Place the large plate of hamsi and salad on the sofa between you, grab a couple of forks, put the rest of the dressing into a little pot and cut some fresh, crusty bread. Eat, chomp and dip!

Afiyet olsun!

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  1. Those look so delicately fried!!

  2. @ Belinda: Just a quick plunge in the hot oil is all they need. I could eat them all over again. 🙂

  3. Wow this sounds wonderful! It looks great too. Do you find that the Turkish people are healthy eaters- I mean is their food more to the healthy side- lots of salads and fresh food? Not so much frying? With this it is just a quick plunge into hot oil, not sitting and soaking in the oil.

  4. @ Anjuli: It’s a very healthy diet but there is a lot of olive oil involved. In fact, there is a series of dishes called olive oil dishes. We do eat them occasionally because olive oil is good for you – and the olive oil dishes are just sooo good. 😉 Most fish is grilled. It’s not a lot that is deep-fried like this.

  5. this looks wonderful. we can’t get those kinds of anchovies her. however, as soon as lent arrives, this city goes into fried fish mode and you can get fabulous fried fish sandwiches everywhere, even the churches sell them!

  6. @ Jaz: They’re difficult to get hold of in the UK as well. we just get the salted, jarred anchovies there. Love the fresh ones. They make many different meals with them here.

  7. I’m not normally a big fan of anchovies (or herring, which must be its Northern European cousin), but this looks like a really nice, delicate little meal.

  8. @Sophie: We love the fresh anchovies and they are very delicate. Yeah, not sure about the herring relationship but we love smoked herring, too. 🙂

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