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My Odessa: Sprat cult

31 Mar, 2021
My Odessa: Sprat cult

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Maria Kalenska is a third generation Odessite, currently living in London. Having made a career in the corporate world, she has now exchanged her business suit for a kitchen apron. Maria currently writes for gastronomic and travel publications, along with organising culinary master classes and exclusive enogastronomic tours and pop-up dinners.

Her heart forever belongs to Odessa, but in London she has an important mission – to promote Ukrainian and Odessa cuisine!

That may seem a threadbare theme.

Indeed, in Odessa, sprat is for both breakfast, lunch, and even for a hearty dinner. If you translate into a high culinary language, this little fish is a cult. Do not argue, and do not call this fish “pilchard” or “Black Sea kilka”, which are uncommon in Odessa. Call it sprat or tulechka, giving it a diminutive and affectionate name.

I do not want to offend the out-of-towners, but only someone who tried the brown bread with yellow bazaar butter in childhood can pronounce “tulechka” in a right way. (Remembering Luyda from Berezovka, she is the third in a row, and she sells best bryndza cheese and butter). Putting some yellowish and soft or firm butter on the slice of brown bread, with two or three sprats on the top. Serving with sweet black tea. For breakfast. Even before school. The first experience may shock your taste buds, and if they faint – you are able to pronounce “tulechka” in a right way. This is almost half the recipe. Well, it only takes a long time to clean it: everything else must be done quickly, squinting your left eye, like a seventh-generation gourmet, whose grandmother salts that little fish herself, in order to feed all family. The second half of the recipe is a trip for sprats to the bazaar.

I must say that the fish row is a loud and “fragrant” place. Go to the fish rows; they have even put a statue of Sonya fisher there, which attracts your eye. Then you see writings on the cardboards “the fattest and most delicious”, “awesome, fat, very tasty”, “super sprat elite”. Do not let them fool you, that’s just marketing. If someone grabs your hand and says, “Look, mine is the best” – do not be distracted. Your goal is to choose the very fresh and fatty. At first some to pickle. Do not be afraid to sniff. Of course, visually you will immediately distinguish the plump sprat sides from the skinny ones, large from small. The skin should still be whole. You can’t take them by the piece, but in the general, it would be better if they were whole. That’s all. For starters, take a kilo or so.

Come home. Do not clean. At all. Just wash a bit under running water – and put in the bowl (preferably with a lid). Some people prefer to pickle the fish right in the bottle, but I do not. Do not be too enthusiastic with salt – you may spoil the fish. Take about 3 tablespoons of salt per kilo (who loves exact weight it is 100 grams). Dilute the salt in water, you should take as much water so that then all this liquid covered the sprats, but do not let the fish swim freely. Put the bay leaf, 3 pieces, 7-8 pieces of peppercorns and a pinch of coriander into the water. Pour the liquid on the fish, close with a lid and send it to the refrigerator. Do not bother the fish for about 2-4 hours. Abstain from shaking, touching, peeking: you should taste, not look.

Get the fish from the fridge and do not forget to buy some good brown bread. Get some butter and make some black tea with sugar. Cut the bread. Put some butter. Take a few sprats from the bowl –as many you want to try. With one easy movement from the head, filet the fish. Together with the head, the intestines are easily removed. Then you put it with a silvery thin skin up – and try, taste; try to have for breakfast so that at first, it may seem strange, then it tastes good, then – you cannot do without sprats, then – you trade croissants for sprats.

Have some sprats for breakfast, or for light dinner. Also, there are sprat rissoles, but that is a separate topic. Although the cooking takes three minutes, however, apart from going to a bazaar and cleaning.

Maria Kalenska
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The Odessa Journal

The Odessa Journal

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