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.|