I had to cook at some point… Turkish Hamsi, Mezgit and Coban Salad

Cooking over here is always an interesting procedure for me.

For starters – all of the ingredients are foreign, the knives are dull, none of the spices are labeled and must be identified by smell, there isn’t a pepper mill to be found anywhere and the salt smells very strong of iodine from time to time.

However, not to be deterred, I stuck with what I know well. Fish. And here there is hardly anything better than some fresh Hamsi – that is if you’re in the mood for finger food.

I can’t stress this enough; Hamsi should not be overcooked. Nor should they be washed before cooking, unless you have the time and space to dry them completely which never seems to work. Also be gentle with the amount of butter or oil you use.

After the saute of some white onion, garlic and fresh tomato, salt, pepper, oregano and cumin in sunflower oil for about 10 minutes, add the Hamsi and gently work into the sauce with your fingers. Tools will break the fish.

Cover and let simmer for about 3 to 4 minutes. After that time has passed, uncover and gently ladle some of the sauce over the top fish. Cook for a few more minutes and then turn out onto a large plate or platter, putting the bottom fish on top to be served first. The dish is great served with bread for dipping. Season lightly with salt.

When it comes to cleaning the Hamsi, provided you haven’t overcooked them, you can pick them up one by one, by the tail and gently bend the tail back. The filet should begin to separate easily and come right off the skeleton of the fish. Turn over and do the same to the other side. In general this should provide a relatively bone-free meal.

If you can wait for the gratification a little, pull several filets and create a small pile to chow on with the rest of your meal. Me – I can’t wait and will pick them up and eat them one by one, my hands covered in sauce and seasonings.

The Mezgit filets (Turkish Whiting – central to the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara Region) are delicate and once again, the less you do to them the better they will be. These filets were simply seasoned with salt, pepper and a little cumin, dredged in flour and pan fried in a small amount of hot sunflower oil. Once cooked they are fleshy with a mild flavor and would go great with a beer, soda or citrus-flavored soft drink.

As for the Coban salad – I can’t take any credit for it. My sister in-law made it for the meal. Just take fresh tomatoes (never refrigerated) baby cucumbers, green onions, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and chop them into small pieces, mix them together and serve. There are no hard and fast recipes for Coban salad and it changes everywhere you go, but that is the basic base for it.

So get a fishing pole and get started – you’ve got a bit of work ahead of you.

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