Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fishy Fingers



Despite cooking for a living for over 30 years, there are a couple of techniques that I have never properly mastered.  When faced with a kilo of hamsi my heart always sinks. I know it's traditional in Turkey to treat these anchovies as whitebait;  fry them whole and eat in in one bite, but I find the bones too crunchy and the guts too sour, so I have to clean them, and this always causes me a headache. I end up with a pile of fish mush.
When I read that Aslı at Erenler Sofrası was organising  a cookery demonstration by world-renowned gourmet,  restaurant critic and writer Byron Ayanoglu, I was keen to get my hands dirty with this chef to the famous.  The proposed menu had my two bête-noire; hamsi and cuttlefish.

Marinated Hamsi, Mackerel and Salmon
Mixed Wild Greens Salad

Grilled Octopus
Spinach-Leek-Feta Pie
Cuttlefish Risoto-style Pilaf

Almond Tort with Fruit Coulis



I almost missed the preparation of the hamsi, having headed off to wash my hands and getting completely perplexed by the state-of -the-art taps in Erenler Sofrası's new venue.  When I finally got back to the table everyone else was on a roll.  Byron kindly gave me a second demonstration and after two or three butchered anchovies, I was producing perfect filets.   I now know that like all things, it's just technique. Pinch off the head and pull down taking the guts with it and use the thumb to flatten the fish and pull out the backbone.  No knife needed. The fish were layered with salt, lemon and grapefruit juice and left for 3 hours to marinade.  I was on safer ground with the salmon, having spent the summer in Sweden, land of raw fish, although I would never have thought of using mandarin juice in a souse. I can remember exactly when I last prepared cuttlefish. I was cook aboard SY Sinbad Severne in 1981. The resulting risotto tasted fantastic, but the galley and I were covered in ink and I couldn't show my black fingernails in public for a week.  I vowed then to learn how to prepare this sea beast properly and 32 years later I have.  It's just as messy as I remember it and I will not be attempting this dish at home.



Byron's new book Istanbul to Montreal is being published in Turkish by İsbankası Yayınları and will be in the bookstalls in April. 

23 comments:

  1. So happy you met Aslı! She's really great and I was happy to teach a baking class at her lovely place too. And wow, that fish is black!

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    1. I went to one of Aslı's demonstrations last year so was keen to get on this one.

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  2. This reminds me of my husband who spends a considerable amount of time preparing fish and seafood with a patience I simply don't have. I like to eat it but not enough to make it. We have a plate of 'boquerone' (not sure if they are tiny sardines or anchovies, or are these the same thing?) in the freezer at the moment, waiting for their marinade of olive oil and vinegar - and we eat them when the sun is shining. Squid we buy prepared...I can't stand the ink - but I'll be looking at your recipe links.
    Axxx

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  3. My husband is happy to eat the whole hamsi, but not me, so although I enjoy them, like you I find it difficult to prepare them. You make it sound like it's pretty easy so maybe I'll give it a go. The whole menu looks delicious. Never tried cuttlefish and not sure I want to really.

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    1. I don't think you'll miss much by not eating cuttle fish.

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  4. B to B, Wow, the cooking demonstration sounds terrific and what a great opportunity to see how a great chef like Byron does it. You gave me a good tip. I always use a knife with cleaning hamsi but I've seen them in the market doing it like you describe. I'll give it a try it next time I make them. But I'm afraid, after seeing your photo, I'll pass on the squid.

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    1. I used to use a knife and ended up with fish mush.

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  5. What a wonderful experience this must have been, I will look out for Asli and Byron's blog, thanks for that. I am with you when it comes to handling fish, it doesn't come naturally to me either. Great tips here though, thanks for that.

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    1. You'd be a great "expert" for one of Aslı's courses. Joy taught here a couple of years ago.

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  6. I love fish but the thought of cleaning out the guts puts me off cooking it!

    I do love the way I can send Murat to Yenishar where he buy's Seabass or Bream and takes it 2 doors along to a little man who cooks it and sends it back in polystyrene containers....perfect!!

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  7. . .squid can squidoo - that looks disgusting! Some of these things leave me wondering how people ever got around to thinking that they just might be nice to eat in the first place!

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  8. Thanks for the post. Looking forward to checking out the blog's as well.

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    1. Hoping that Byron will update his soon.

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  9. I have so much admiration for you...such dedication.... I'm afraid this would be too much for me, looks and sounds grea5t though. J.

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  10. Wow, THAT looks messy. Would love to go to one of thee cooking classes one day. no such luck in Fethiye unfortunately. As for hamsi, most of the time our very kind fishmonger does it for us but if he's too busy, that one's Barrys department. :)

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  11. I think there is a little misunderstanding in your first paragraph.

    Some could eat fried hamsi with its bones and crunchy tails. However, no one I know eat hamsi with its guts, and I am from Blacksea region.

    Mesut

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    1. I agree with you Mesut, but several times in Bodrum, I've been offered whole hamsi deep fried.

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  12. As one who'll try anything...once...I'd give your fish a go. Not sure about preparing them myself though :D

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