Turkish Steamed Anchovies and Tomatoes (Hamsi Bugulama)
At Emre Balikcilik, a charmingly rustic spot in Giresun, on Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast, Turken Tunan prepares simple stovetop dishes with fish pulled from her fishmonger husband Turgay’s display case, which sits at the entrance. Bugulama (from bugulamak, Turkish for “steamed or boiled”) describe a whole range of ways of preparing fish on the Black Sea coast; there are probably as many versions as there are cooks. Bugulama can be soupy, saucy or dry; cooked on the stovetop or in the oven; spare and simple, little more than fish poached on the bone with parsley and garlic, or lush with juicy tomatoes and lots of freshly churned Black Sea butter.
Turken’s anchovy bugulama layers whole fish (cleaned, head and tail removed, spine left in; you could also use butterflied fillets) with thinly sliced tomatoes and green chiles. A splash of white verjus or apple vinegar (do not substitute wine vinegar) lightens the dish while bringing out the sweetness of the tomatoes. Don’t skimp on the butter—a Black Sea cook would use all four tablespoons, and more. This preparation also works with other oily fish such as mackerel, bluefish, even sliced salmon. Bread, to mop up the sauce, is an essential accompaniment.
Because of their small size, fresh anchovies are one of the easiest fish to clean and filet. Using a sharp paring knife, split open the belly lengthwise, then slice away the head. Pull out the bones (they should come out in one clean piece), then gently rinse the remaining filets in a bowl of cold water.
- 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 medium-large ripe, juicy tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
- 3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
- 12-16 oz. fresh anchovies, butterflied and cleaned (heads, tails, and spines removed)
- 2 long thin mild or hot green chiles, such as Anaheim, halved lengthwise, seeded if desired, and thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter
- 3 tsp. white verjus or apple cider vinegar
- Pul biber (untoasted Turkish red chile flakes), such as Maras, Antep, or Aleppo Crusty bread, for serving
- In a 12-inch cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet, add the olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the surface. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer to cover the bottom of the pan, barely overlapping their edges. Arrange the garlic slices over the tomatoes, then lay the anchovies over the garlic and tomatoes in a pinwheel pattern. Sprinkle to taste with the sliced chiles, then top with another layer of tomatoes. Season generously with salt and distribute the butter slices around the top. Finally, drizzle with the verjus and sprinkle with pul biber to taste.
- Cover the pan with a lid and set over high heat. Cook, covered and without disturbing, until the juices are sizzling and the garlic, fish, and vinegar are aromatic, 6-8 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook, covered, until the fish is just steamed through, 8-10 minutes. (There should be a decent amount of liquid at the bottom of the pan.) If your tomatoes were exceptionally juicy, uncover the pan and boil off a little of the excess juices before serving. Serve warm from the pan, with crusty bread.