Seafood Among The Ottomans

Culinary Diversity Was Greater Among The Ottomans Than It Is Today.

Almost all the recipes written and published in the Ottoman period have been translated into modern Turkish. A close look at them reveals the number of seafood dishes to have been fewer, naturally, than those prepared with chicken of meat. In quantity and diversity, however, they are far richer than today’s recipes. The palace kitchen records uncovered by historians mention the names of both freshwater and saltwater fish.

Istanbul’s contribution to the culture of fish and seafood in the Ottoman period was enormous. It was a time when the fruits of the sea were transformed into a brand of entertainment popular with people from all walks of life. Part of the palace organization, the guards of the wholesale fish market caught fish for the palace under the command of the Chief Fisherman. Affluent Ottomans had their fishing gear fashioned by masters of the craft and stored it in stylish boxes, they employed fishermen and special seafood chefs, they went on fishing excursions with music and entertainment, and they stored the fish they caught live in fish ponds at the boathouses of their waterfront mansions. Methods of cooking fish were also far richer and more interesting than ours today. When it comes to stuffed fish, we are more familiar with mackerel. But the Ottomans also stuffed blue fish, bream, red mullet and bonito. They even employed the popular method of pressing (pastırma) on fish, using swordfish and sturgeon for the more expensive variety, and eel for a less costly version.They also produced several varieties of fumé or smoked fish. Among the drying techniques, we are familiar today with çiroz (dried, salted mackerel). The fact of the matter is however that there were several different drying techniques, many of which are extremely difficult to implement today.

Prepared for publication by our distinguished elder, Feyzi Halıcı Bey, Ali Eşref Dede’s ‘Yemek Risalesi’ (Culinary Treatise) contains several fish recipes for everything from swordfish stew and sardine salad to fish soup, fish salad and grilled turbot liver cutlet.

1 red sea bream, 2 onions, 6 cloves of garlic, half bunch of flat leaf parsley, 2 cups water, 4 g salt

Clean and salt the fish. Halve an onion and boil the fish in 2 cups of water with the half onion and six cloves of peeled garlic. When half the water has been absorbed, remove from the heat. Dice an onion and rub well with salt. Chop the parsley finely and add to the onion. Remove the boiled garlic from the water and add to the onion-parsley mixture. Stuff the fish with this mixture and place on a baking sheet. Cover with the remaining water, seal with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes in a pre-heated 180 º C oven.

1 k medium-grain rice,
500 g boned sardines,
100 g olive oil, 4 g salt,
1 liter water.

Soak, wash and drain the rice. Fill a pot with the water, add the olive oil and salt and bring to a boil. Then add the rice and, on top of it, the sardines. Let simmer over very low heat for about 10 minutes until the rice absorbs the water. Remove from the heat and let rest for 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.