Last Sunday we drove out to Şile on the Black Sea coast to investigate what will hopefully be Turkey’s third Earth Market.
It proved easy to find and we spent a couple of very enjoyable hours there. Then we drove the few minutes down to the liman or harbour in quest of Balıkçı Resul whom TT had read about with great interest in Hürriyet newspaper recently. As you can see, we found him!
What was so special about this particular fisherman, you may wonder? Well, his lakerda or salted bonito is supposed to be second to none and a good lakerda is exquisite. You find it in good fish restaurants as a meze. I say ‘good’ because you must be very careful where you eat it as the quality can vary considerably. Keep away from the supermarket variety.
It’s made from the fattytorik which swims down the Bosphorus during November and December ie now.Torik is the name given to the palamut/bonito as it grows in size. It can be made from other fish but apparently the lakerda made from torik caught in November in the Bosphorus is the one to go for.
You must have seen the displays of palamut, that beautiful shiny firm fish in the local fishmongers around the city?
It wasn’t difficult to track Resul down. All we had to do was ask. Luckily he was there as otherwise, of course, he would be out on his boat. He was with a couple of cronies who were drinking tea and watching him deftly filleting his fish.
Needless to say, they invited us to sit with them and have çay too.Resul was an extremely pleasant guy; it wasn’t difficult to get into the conversation with him and his friends. In fact, it was one of those perfect Istanbul encounters.
Now, what Resul told us was very interesting: this year the torik aren’t fatty enough so he isn’t going to make any lakerda at all!
I have lived here long enough to know that the making of lakerda is one of those specialised jobs that only the highly competent attempt. Not a job for the novice, that’s for sure. People here have been preparing torik for millennia so there is a certain mystique attached. The first challenge comes from knowing which torik to select. Nowadays palamut itself is often used as there aren’t that many torik.
The actual preparation involves removing the head and tail of the fish, cleaning it and then cutting the body into 3 equal parts. Each part must be washed very well indeed as it’s essential that all blood is removed. Plenty of iced water is used and it’s changed at least 4 times a day until the water runs clear. No trace of blood must be visible. After that, copious amounts of coarse salt are spread at the bottom of either a jar or a bowl, and more is rubbed into the fish before it is placed upright in the container including the exposed flesh.
It’s then refrigerated for 10-15 days with the fish pieces being inverted daily. Here’s a little video of the process but not surprisingly it’s in Turkish. Watch here.
The traditional way of serving lakerda is sliced, skin removed, salt carefully washed away and each slice on a red onion ring. As I mentioned above, it is a meze in fish restaurants and you drink rakı, needless to say!
So either go to Şile to the charming little harbour and see if you can find Resul Reis, or else make sure you order lakerda when you’re next in a fish restaurant! It’s a delicacy not to be missed!PS Lakerda can be preserved in a fresh brine made with 1 handful of salt per litre of ice water. This is how it can be eaten throughout the year, not only now.