Mmm, I really like these and I’m willing to bet you do too!
Winter is the time of plenty for hamsi (pron: hum/see) or anchovy here in Istanbul. They are mostly fished in the frigid waters of the Black Sea from October on and are readily available in their beautiful silvery grey multitudes from all local fishmongers here.
At source so to speak, little Black Sea towns like Amasra and Sinop will be serving almost nothing else during the season which is now.
You really want to buy them already gutted because there is no denying that it’s a pain if you have to prepare them yourself.
It may be more romantic to buy them from an old guy like this one but it’s a lot more work!
If your fishmonger isn’t rushed off his feet, he will do it for you with pleasure but on a busy Saturday morning with throngs of shoppers clamouring for their fish, forget it. Hamsi are very cheap: 5 or 10 lira a kilo. You need a kilo for 4 people, I reckon.
Basically, as with all small fish, fried or tava is best. The hamsi are dipped in flour or cornmeal and simply fried in oil – any oil but not olive.Grilled is nice but trickier to do because the fish are so small they slip through the bars of the grill. Baked in the oven is also nice.
But you can’t beat fried.
You can either fry them whole after flouring, heads and all, and eat them with gusto with your fingers, or what you can do is put two prepared hamsi together, sprinkled with flour so they stick together, and fry in a little oil.
You can then have them as a sandwich in crusty fresh bread:
with a traditional side of red onions with parsley and sumac.
Or, if you don’t want to fry your hamsi, you can spread them out in a single layer on a baking tray, season with salt and pepper, add some lemon slices, a couple of bay leaves, and perhaps a sprinkle of kekik/dried thyme, and then the tiniest drizzle of olive oil just to moisten, and bake in a pre-heated oven for about 20-25 mins at 180C/350F.
For we lucky people who live in Istanbul, here is a marvellous link that I discovered today: it’s from Istanbul Eats and gives their favourite places in the city to eat hamsi. I can’t wait to eat my way through them!