Hamsi season! Those of you who read this blog a lot will be fully aware that this is one of our favourite times of year. All those little anchovies swimming amongst the icy currents of the Black Sea and along the Bosphorus.
Hamsi is nigh on worshipped in the Black Sea regions of Turkey and the inventiveness of some of the hamsi foodie creations around there – even now, after all these years living here, we still see innovations and classic dishes that have us hitting the kitchen with effervescent enthusiasm.
Our most recent dalliance with hamsi was this traditional Turkish hamsili pilav recipe (fresh anchovies and rice).
If you love the distinctive flavours of oil-rich fish like fresh mackerel and sardines, and if you love a zingy pilaf dish, hamsili pilav is going to be a favourite for you!
At this time of year, the stalls of Fethiye Balık Pazarı – and other fish markets around Turkey – are piled high with shimmering, silver hamsi (fresh anchovies).
Often, we’ll deep fry it – as we’ve seen them do at Karaköy Balık Pazarı in Istanbul – and relive our street food favourite; crusty bread filled with fresh salad and anchovies. And any leftovers from that, well no problem there – anchovy fish cakes always satisfy!
Oven Baked Hamsili Pilav
But in all the time we’ve lived in Turkey, we’ve always wanted to make hamsili pilav; a traditional Black Sea Turkish dish of fragrant rice encased in fresh anchovies.
It’s always looked so tasty and tempting in photos – and impressive. But it’s also always looked like a dish that could take time – maybe even go wrong. Tossing the fish in corn flour before plunging them into hot oil always won the day. Easy life and delicious, too.
But the season of fresh anchovies is long enough to be able to experiment. Recently, after browsing Ghillie Başan’s fascinating cookery book, ‘Saffron & Sumac,’ the memory was once more jogged.
A full page photo of her dome shaped baked anchovies jolted us back into action. Off to the fish market for hamsi. Time to finally take the plunge and make hamsili pilav!
How To Make Hamsili Pilav
Apart from filleting your anchovies – a first for me for this recipe – the other slight concern is presenting your hamsili pilav dish without it all collapsing! That was the fear. However, no fear necessary as you will see! Let’s fillet our anchovies and make our pilav for the filling.
We have a regular go-to fishmonger in Fethiye so when we buy hamsi from him in winter, he also cleans them for us. This entails removal of head and innards. So now, all that’s left is the main body of the anchovies and the backbone. For hamsili pilav, we need to remove the backbone so that the fish butterflies.
Fillet Your Anchovies
Filleting your anchovies is easy and quick once you get into the rhythm. At the top end of each fish, take the backbone between your finger and thumb and pull quickly downwards towards the tail. It removes easily and the fish will naturally butterfly for you.
(If you don’t want your hands to smell of hamsi, hygiene gloves might be the way forward.)
Prepare Your Pilaf
The pilaf part of your hamsili pilav is also very simple. It’s the same process as making the classic Turkish rice dish, şehriyeli pilav; just with some different ingredients.
As well as Ghillie Başan’s ‘Anchovies and Rice in a Dome’ recipe, we browsed online hamsili pilav recipes and also trusted our own tastes to make a couple of adjustments here and there.
So, the rice part of our hamsili pilav recipe has got onions, pine nuts, raisins, allspice, mint, fresh dill and lots of fresh lemon juice. The amount of lemon is the difference between our recipe and many others.
Some people leave out the raisins but like to go the sweet route by adding cinnamon and sugar. We knew we’d love the citrus tang of the lemon against the rice and the fish, though.
Time To Create The Hamsili Pilav Dish
And this is the fun part; the part where you start to build your hamsili pilav.
We’d only ever seen hamsili pilav presented as one large centrepiece for the dinner table in the past and we’d definitely do this if we were entertaining. However, as there’s just the two of us in our household and it was being made as a lunch we decided to make two individual dishes.
This was an idea we saw on one of our favourite Instagram accounts, Trabzon Yemekler Çoğrafya Kültür. These guys showcase traditional Trabzon and Black Sea dishes, of which hamsili pilav is one.
Skins Facing Down
All we’re going to do is grease our (oven proof) bowl of choice and take out our anchovy fillets. With the silver skin against the bowl, start to line the base of the bowl with one layer of anchovy fillets. If you’re using a circular bowl, you can lay them in a circular pattern in you like so that your hamsili pilav looks pretty when you present it.
Once the base is covered, line the edges of your bowl, again with the silver skins against the bowl and the flesh facing inwards. Keep going until you have no gaps.
Add Your Rice Pilaf
Now all we’re going to do is gently spoon in our cooked pilav filling and keep going until we reach the rim of the bowl. Don’t worry if, when you’re building your hamsili pilav dish, you have anchovy fillets poking out at the top. As you can see, that’s what happened in our case. No problem.
Encase Your Rice With Anchovies
No problem because, now, we’re going to completely encase our rice with the anchovies. First of all, if you’ve got fillets protruding, fold all of these in towards the centre of your pilav.
The hamsi are really easy to work with and are well behaved. They won’t slip around when you’re lining your bowl and, once you’ve folded them over with a gentle press, they’ll stay in place.
Now, all we need to do is cover the top bit of the rice. Again, if you’re making hamsili pilav as one large centrepiece, you can be creative with how you position your fillets.
Not much room for creativity with our individual bowls so it was just a case of placing a couple of fillets over the remaining rice. And our hamsili pilav is ready to be baked in the oven.
Hamsili Pilav Recipe – Turkish Baked Rice And Fresh Anchovies
Hamsili Pilav - A Black Sea Recipe Of Oven Baked Pilaf Encased In Fresh Anchovies
For The Hamsi
- 500 g fresh anchovies cleaned & filleted
- butter for greasing your bowl
For The Pilaf
- 1 cup long grain rice we use a standard coffee/tea mug
- 1 onion peeled & finely chopped
- ½ bunch fresh dill finely chopped
- 1 handful currants or raisins
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 dessert spoon dried mint
- 2 large fresh lemons rind & juice of
- 1 tsp allspice
- salt & pepper for seasoning
- 1 tbsp butter for cooking
For The Pilaf Filling
- First of all, melt your butter in a saucepan on a medium heat and add your onion.
- Stir around until your onion starts to soften.
- Now add your pine nuts and stir until they start to take on a golden colour.
- Now add your rice and stir around for a 2-3 minutes.
- Add your lemon rind, currants, allspice, mint, salt & pepper.
- Using the same-sized cup as the one you used for your rice, add 1½ cups hot water, turn to a high heat and bring your rice mix to the boil.
- Cover and simmer for 8 minutes until the water has been absorbed.
- Remove from the heat and leave to steam for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, remove the lid and fluff the rice.
- Add your lemon juice and dill then stir in.
For The Hamsili Pilav
- Preheat your oven to 180° (150° for a fan oven).
- Whilst your pilaf is steaming take an oven proof dish and grease the base and edges liberally with butter.
- Now cover the base and edges with 1 layer of your anchovy fillets with the skin side down, against the bowl. If you are using a circular or dome-shaped bowl, you can layer your anchovies in circular patterns if you like.
- Keep placing the anchovy fillets until you have no gaps.
- Give your pilaf a stir and start to place it into your anchovy casing.
- Once you reach the top of your bowl, if you have any anchovy fillets protruding, fold them all inwards towards the centre.
- Now cover the top of your rice with anchovies, too, so that your pilaf is completely encased.
- Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of your hamsili pilaf and place in the oven.
- After 20-25 minutes, remove your hamsili pilav from the oven and serve.
- If you have used a shallow oven dish, you can serve in slices as you would a pie, straight from the dish.
- If you want to present your hamsili pilav as a centrepiece, place an inverted serving plate over the top of your hamsili pilav. With one hand on top of the plate and the other under your oven dish, turn them over so that your hamsili pilaf is now upside down on your serving plate.
- Tap around the dish and then carefully remove to reveal your hamsili pilav.
- Garnish with fresh lemon slices and sprigs of dill.
- As with all our recipes, calories are meant as a general guide.
- If you are in Turkey, baldo pirinç is a suitable rice to use for this dish. We used jasmine rice for a change and this worked well, too.
- The cooking time for the hamsili pilav is the oven stage. Cooking time for your pilaf is part of the preparation time.
- If you are using one dish to make your hamsili pilav, it will serve three to four people, depending on serving size.
How Will You Present Your Hamsili Pilav?
Your hamsili pilav has been baking in the oven at 180 degrees for around 25 minutes and now it’s time to serve it.
Are you going to leave it in the bowl you’ve cooked it in or are you going to go all out to impress and tip onto a serving plate? Well, we had nobody to impress so it didn’t matter if the whole thing collapsed.
Depending on the shape of bowl you use, your hamsili pilav will look something like this once it comes out of the oven. And, of course, your oven dish is going to be crazy hot.
If you used a shallow dish, you could slice up your hamsili pilav and serve it like you would a pie. But if you used a deep dish, like us, let’s take the plunge. Let’s be brave and present our anchovy and rice bake as it should be.
And there you have it. A serving of hamsili pilav. To get it out of your bowl, place a flat plate over the top of your hamsili pilav and then flip it over so that the bake is upside down.
Gently tap the edges and the top of your dish and slowly lift it to reveal your cooked hamsili pilav on the serving plate. Serve with dill and lots of fresh lemon. And now you can take your fork and delve in…
Hamsili Pilav – Afternotes
- Our quantities for hamsili pilav filled two individual oven dishes and we also had some leftovers. Our oval-shaped bowls are around 2 inches deep and 4.5 inches across, at their longest point. This gave us two large servings.
- If you have leftover pilaf, it’s delicious served cold with grilled meats so it needn’t go to waste. Any leftover hamsi can be coated in cornflour and shallow-fried.
- We’re usually very careful with our use of dill as we find it overpowering. However, the strong rice and anchovy flavours of hamsili pilav can handle the dill and they make for a tasty combination.
- You can find this hamsili pilav recipe filed in our Meat & Seafood section. Of course, it also features on our page which lists our full collection of Turkish recipes.
- This recipe was adapted to our taste from the fantastic ‘Saffron & Sumac’ cookery book by Ghillie Başan.