" One of Istanbul’s best street food (which every visitor should try) is Balık ekmek, a grilled fish sandwich. It is grilled mackerel, fresh lettuce, and onions in 6-inch sandwich bread. It is delicious but be careful of the bones, and do not forget to squeeze lemon!
Rather than going to a restaurant, we recommend getting your Balık Ekmek from one of the many boats in Eminönü shore that cook it on their boats. Ordering your fish from a boat may look like they are using fresh, local fish, but the truth is that these boats and most of the restaurants in Istanbul use Norwegian mackerel for fish sandwiches.
Generally, the best time to eat Balık ekmek is between noon and nightfall. Finding these boats is usually impossible after the dark. You can also buy pickle juice or turnip juice sold nearby; locals enjoy these drinks with their fish sandwiches."
Now I've loosely based this recipe on these famous Mackerel sandwiches from Istanbul, Rather than sandwich bread, I'm making home made flat breads, and I've also added in the wonderfully creamy Labneh, which I think works fantastically well with this recipe, and adds a wonderful creaminess to the finished dish.
If you are able to BBQ your mackerel, then I'd highly recommend you do so, that smokiness you get just can't be replicated when cooking in a pan or under a grill! I'm also not sure about pickle juice or turnip juice!! I'd prefer a glass of ice cold beer or crisp white wine, but I'll leave this up yo you!
I've recently cooked these fantastic Mackerel flatbreads at a local Taste of the Sea Festival, and they went down a storm! Even converting one lady who said she didn't like mackerel!
This recipe will serve 4 people, Takes a little time of advanced preparation, but is well worth the effort.
1 Small Red Onion thinly sliced
2 Ciabatta Rolls/Or Equivalent ( I've added the recipe for flatbreads, but you can use whatever you prefer )
4 Mackerel Fillets ( pin bones removed )
Olive Oil/Good quality rapeseed oil
A Small Handful of Fresh Mint roughly chopped
A Grated Carrot
A large handful Rocket/Watercress or Salad leaves of your choice, But something peppery
1 Large Tomato Finely Sliced
For the Dressing
2 tbsp EVOO or a good quality rapeseed oil, plus more to serve
2 tbsp Lemon Juice
1 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses
¼ tsp Sumac
¼ tsp Chili Flakes ( I’m using Aleppo Pepper )
½ Clove Garlic, Crushed
Lemon for squeezing over
For the Labneh
1Kg Full Fat Greek Yoghurt or whole milk yogurt
1 tsp salt
What is Labneh?
" Tangy, thick, and creamy, labneh (also known as labneh or labne) is basically yogurt cheese. Just like Greek yogurt, it is made by straining yogurt until it loses most of its liquid. If you want to keep it for longer than a week, you can make it into balls and cover these with olive oil, which will keep happily in the fridge for a couple of months. Use it like feta in salads, dotted over a tray of roast vegetables or to make a labneh cheesecake. Utterly delicious."
How to make Labneh
Pour the yogurt into a large bowl. Stir in salt.
Line another large bowl with a linen or muslin towel (or several layers of cheesecloth.) Pour the yogurt mixture into the towel. Pick up the edges of the towel and tie at the top. set a large sieve, lined with linen towel over a deep bowl. Add the yogurt mixture. Cover gently with the overhang of the linen towel, or another linen towel. Set aside on the counter, or in the fridge, to drain for 24/48 hours.
For the dressing
Put all the dressing ingredients in a jar with ¼ tsp each of salt and black pepper. Seal, then shake vigorously and set aside for 5 minutes.
For the Onions
Put the onion in a shallow bowl, pour over the dressing (removing the garlic) and leave to marinate
To make the Flat Breads
You can cook the flat breads as I've described below, but if you are really feeling adventurous! try cooking them on the outdoor BBQ!! Just awesome.
200g/7oz plain flour
¼ tsp salt
100ml/3½floz warm water ( for a really tasty alternative use natural yoghurt instead of water )
2 tbsp oil (olive oil, rapeseed sunflower or vegetable)
Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and slowly add the water bit by bit.
Mix the water and flour mixture together with your finger tips.
Add the oil and knead the dough, you are aiming for a soft dough. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour or if it is too dry, add a splash of water.
Knead the dough for 5 minutes, divide into 6 equal balls.
You can cook the breads straight away or leave the dough to stand for about 30 minutes.
On a clean surface, roll each ball of dough one at a time using a rolling pin. You should be able to pick up and move the flatbread often, (You may need to sprinkle a little flour on the surface but only use a little as too much will dry out the dough.) Don’t worry if they aren’t perfect circles!
Heat a large frying pan. You don’t need to oil the pan, you can cook the flatbreads in a dry non stick pan, Cook each flatbread for about 2 minutes on one side – it should puff up a little. Flip the flatbread over using tongs and then cook for a couple of minutes on the other side. The flatbread should have turned lighter in colour and may have a few spots of brown. Keep the cooked flatbreads warm, wrapped in foil until the others are cooked.
To assemble your Mackerel Flat Breads
I would highly recommend cooking your mackerel fillets and even the flat breads on the BBQ if you possibly can, this will lift this already amazing dish to another level.
Season the flesh of the mackerel fillets generously with salt. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.
Fry the fillets, skin side down, for 3 to 4 minutes. Once the skin has begun to crisp up, flip the fillets over and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes on the other side until the fillets are just cooked through.
While the fish is cooking, put the mint, carrot and rocket in the bowl with the onion and toss well.
When the mackerel is ready, transfer the fish to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain any excess oil and begin assembling the flatbreads
Spread some of the labneh over the bread, Drizzle over some EVOO, Sprinkle over some more sumac and chili flakes, then layer on the mackerel, followed by the tomatoes with a pinch of salt, the carrots and then top with the salad leaves, a couple of teaspoons of the dressing, Finish with a squeeze of lemon and serve.