Fishballs with Fresh Tarragon

Fishballs with fresh Tarragon

When I came across the anchovies at our fishmonger’s in the neighborhood last week I remember the day when I first saw this small fish on our kitchen counter. Being so naïve as a little boy I thought that these small fishes were just for the kids not for grownups. Even though sharing them with other family members made me a little blue because of this assumption, I can still recall the salty sea flavor and crispy texture I liked at that time.


Anchovy (known as Hamsi in Turkey) is also popular among other predator fishes and marine mammals as well as humans. In other words everybody loves anchovy, in a wild way though. These little shiny sea dwellers can be found mostly in North America, Mediterranean and Europe. They prefer mild waters and do not like very cold or very warm like my retired father who always complains about the weather conditions. In northern coasts of Turkey, anchovies are so abundant that they are the basic ingredient for most of the local recipes. Besides fried, stewed or brined versions, there is also anchovy soup, anchovy rice, anchovy filled pastry and -I am not sure whether it is an urban legend or not- but even an anchovy dessert.

Even though for many people anchovy is just an ingredient for pizza topping, anchovy paste is widely used in many other recipes like a secret element. Remoulade and Worcestershire Sauce are two examples for such a confidential affair. Although it is difficult to recognize by our taste buds, a very small amount elevates the overall taste with a delightful effect.


Generally anchovies can be found in cans and salt-preserved forms. You can also find them as a paste, but due to applied curing process, they have a stronger taste. Among all available forms, I believe fresh, unprocessed anchovy is at its best. However, due to its high perishability, it is not easy to find. I feel so lucky since fresh anchovy is easy to find in Istanbul till the end of March!

If you do find fresh anchovies in your neighborhood, you have to make sure that they are really fresh. It is easy to understand by your nose; anchovies begin to smell slightly different even at the very early stage of going bad. No need to mention that they should have bright eyes, too.


Right after the fisherman handed over my fresh and cleaned little anchovy fillets, I grew impatient to prepare tasty fishballs out of them. This is a well known local recipe from the Black Sea cuisine that I discovered thanks to my beloved mother in law. While adapting the recipe I wanted to add a bit of tarragon with a sweet, anise like bouquet to balance the strong flavor of scallion. Another suggestion of mine is to serve them along with lime slices and squeeze them on fishballs while you eat. Result was so fascinating that I ended up devouring all the fishballs in the picture before I finish the photo shoot for different angles I planned. Do I regret for that? Absolutely not!


Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings)

  • 600g ( 1 ½ pounds) anchovy fillets
  • 100g (3.53 oz) corn flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 160g (5.64 oz) scallion, chopped
  • 160g (5.64 oz) parsley, chopped
  • 20g (0.7 oz) fresh tarragon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)


1. Add anchovy fillets, egg and corn flour in a large mixing bowl and start kneading by your hand until the fillets fall into pieces.
2. Gradually add chopped scallion, parsley and fresh tarragon and keep on kneading.
3. Season with salt and pepper and keep on kneading until all the ingredients blend very well to gain dough like texture.
4. Take a small piece of mixture to form a ball with 4cm (around 1.5 inches) diameter by rolling in your palms and repeat the same for the rest.
5. Add vegetable oil in a small saucepan and place on high heat.
6. When oil is hot enough for frying (you can test it with a fishball; when you immerse half of it in the oil it should start sizzling) add a group of fishballs and take them out quickly when they are fried. When a fishball is fried a crispy outer shell is formed and it gains a darker color.
7. Serve immediately along with baby arugula leaves and lime slices.

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  1. #1 by Cherine - April 2nd, 2010 at 09:24

    Your fishballs look so good and mouth-watering. I should try your recipe soon :)

  2. #2 by Ozhan - April 2nd, 2010 at 18:40

    Thank you Cherine :) they are really tasty, I am sure you’ll love them.

  3. #3 by kathy - April 2nd, 2010 at 19:28

    Wow yummy! I wonder what sauce this balls goes well with? :-)

  4. #4 by Nina - April 2nd, 2010 at 20:53

    In Romanian we call them hamsie (coming from Turkish, figures!) – they are slippery delicious little fishes. I love that you added tarragon, it’s such an underated herb although it goes so well with fish and chicken and even pork.

  5. #5 by Ozhan - April 2nd, 2010 at 22:03

    Kathy, it goes very well with anything sour, so a sauce containing white wine vinegar will also work I believe.

  6. #6 by Ozhan - April 2nd, 2010 at 22:13

    Nina, I am so surprised to hear that you call them the same. As for the tarragon; I cannot agree with you more than that :)

  7. #7 by yesim - April 6th, 2010 at 11:43

    ben bu tarifi sanki biryerlerden hatırlıyor gibiyim. ne dersiniz??? ama şekil konusunda gene cok yaratıcı davranmıssın ozhan tebrikler

  8. #8 by Ozhan - April 7th, 2010 at 09:28

    Evet Yeşim, aile yadigarı hamsi kuşu tarifinin taze tarhunla zenginleştirilmiş bir versiyonu bu. Dediğin gibi şekil olarak da böylesi daha güzel oldu, yemesi de çok daha keyfili :)

  9. #9 by Özhan’s mother-in-law - April 7th, 2010 at 17:06

    Gerçekten çok güzel ve özel bir tarif bu.Mutlaka deneyin diyorum.(Special thanks for mentioning my name in your recipe my dear son-in-law)

  10. #10 by Ozhan - April 8th, 2010 at 13:46

    Çok teşekkürler anne, nam-ı diğer hamsi kuşunun tarifini verip de beni bu lezzetle tanıştıran kişiden bahsetmemek olamazdı zaten. Bir sonraki sefere ben de tarhunlu versiyonunu yapacağım size :)

  11. #11 by ipek - May 25th, 2010 at 20:32

    I will try your receipe, it looks so delicious.

  12. #12 by Ozhan - June 3rd, 2010 at 19:10

    Thanks İpek, anchovy season is over but you may try with some other fish you like as well!

  13. #13 by patrice - August 18th, 2012 at 21:12

    Hi Ozhan,
    I was having a look at your blog just in case you had put the eggplant turkish recipe you gave me when you came, but i can’t find it. I guess you both have been very busy lately;
    Well I love your blog and your recipe Patrice

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