Kakavia

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

Appears in

Yashim Cooks Istanbul

Yashim Cooks Istanbul

By Jason Goodwin

Published 2016

  • About

The Ottomans used to say, ‘God had made the earth for their Dominion, and Enjoyment, and the sea only for Christians.’ They meant that while the Turks farmed, herded and won important battles, the Greeks went fishing. This was the simple stew Greek fishermen might make when the boats came in, the Ottoman equivalent ofbouillabaisse.

In An Evil Eye, the cooking of kakavia sparks a discussion of tomatoes, whether they are good for you or not. Unknown to the Ottoman kitchen in 1800, by 1900 tomatoes had got into almost everything, and it is hard to imagine Mediterranean food without them. Which makes me wonder if, in the olden days, fishermen flavoured their kakavia with sour little wild greens picked on the shore instead of tomatoes.

You create a fish stock, gently fry some alliums, and combine them with the fish. It’s catch–of-the- day stuff, with nothing set in stone, but avoid oily fish like salmon or mackerel.

Ingredients

For the Fish Stock

  • fish frames
  • water pints
  • salt
  • peppercorns 1 tsp
  • bay leaves
  • onions 2, sliced
  • olive oil
  • head of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • potato 1, thickly sliced
  • tomatoes 2 or 3, chopped
  • chilli
  • leek
  • thyme
  • mixed fish 1kg/2lb (mullet, cod, hake etc)
  • a handful of shellfish
  • lemon
  • salt, pepper

Method

  • Fishmongers always have ‘frames’, meaning heads, bones and all that’s left of a fish after the fillets have been taken, and they may even give them away. To make the stock, cover the frames with water, add a pinch of salt, peppercorns and the bayleaf, and bring to gentle simmer. 20 minutes simmering is enough.
  • Use a heavy–bottomed pan, like a casserole, to melt the onion in olive oil until it turns clear. Add the garlic and the potato, stir in the tomatoes, and let it soften. Imagine, if you like, that you are a fisherman on the shore, casting about for anything tasty to go in the pot. Chilli fresh or flaked, chopped leek, a sprig of fresh thyme – they will be good, if you have them.
  • Look to your fish. You might have mullet, cod, hake or bass in any combination, but try to keep a mix of fish; have it filleted – skinned, too, if you like – and cut the pieces at least an inch square, or bigger.
  • When the stock is done, strain it into the pot – all hissing steam and then a comfortable bubble. Use as much stock as you want, depending how soupy you’d like this kakavia to be. I make it thick, so that it can be soaked up with bread.
  • Lower the pieces of fish into the stewing pan and simmer them for about ten minutes, till done but not collapsing. Add mussels five minutes before the end, if you use them.
  • Good bread, squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper on the table.
  • Kaλη οpɛξη! Bon appetit…