There was a great place for kelle paça çorbasi right around the corner from my apartment in Kadiköy, and if I was having a particularly rough day, I’d go there and order a bowl and feel almost instantly better. It’s the ultimate comfort food. Another thing riot police and RTE’s ridiculous politics have deprived you of- I was putting together notes for an ultimate kelle paça guide to Kadiköy when I was deported.
That should be the next protest, actually. You should all go out with signs decrying your outrage at how you’ll never get my guide to paça now, and maybe sing a few rounds of “Ciao Paça, Ciao Paça, Ciao Ciao Ciao!”
I recently spent a bit of time on the internet trying to determine if there was anywhere in the greater Baltimore area where I could get myself a bowl, and though there are more Turkish restaurants than when I left, they all seem to only have sanitized variations of mercimek çorbası on the menu, spare meats not being super popular in America. So what’s a girl to do if she craves a taste of former home, and has an inordinate amount of time on her hands?
Make her own!
The first hurdle was that there do not appear to be any English translations of recipes, and my Turkish isn’t recipe-good. But there were a few internet videos that I could just about follow, so I watched a few and took notes, and then went on the hunt for a sheep’s head and some sheep’s feet.
If you’re making this in Istanbul, obviously all you have to do is wander down to your local fish market. I would recommend getting the sheeps’ heads that are already roasted to save yourself some trouble, but I’m not gonna tell you how to live your life.
This is more difficult in America, especially if you don’t have a car, so can’t get to the crazy Asian supermarket on Route 40 that has every spare meat under the sun, and other head scratchers like cartons of pigs blood and vats of eyeballs. However- Halal shops are popping up everywhere and I found a Pakistani grocery store within sort of walking distance.
I walked in and asked at the counter if they had sheep’s heads and feet, and the man behind the counter looked inordinately confused for a long time, and then finally sent me to the very back of the store, where- who knew?- behind all the spare 50 kilo bags of rice and stacks of mango chutney and extra sparkly green hajibs, there was an abattoir! The main butcher was Pakistani and spoke okay English. His helper was Hispanic and spoke almost none. I managed, between the two of them and with some miming, to make myself understood. Between slinging recently gutted and skinned carcasses around they told me that they had feet, for sure, but I might have to come back for the head.
So half a week later I did. I got six sheep feet, (more than the usual cause when he pulled them out of the freezer I realized he’d stripped quite a bit of the flesh off) and a sheep’s head, which I had him quarter so it’d fit in the crock pot.
(Warning- the following photographs aren’t for the squeamish or for PETA members.)
Here follows what I did. It didn’t turn out as well as the soup I so used to enjoy after hard days at work, but it turned out pretty damned good. and certainly better than some of the cheap lokantası swill I ate in my dedicated research on all your behalves.
First, the head was fresh but the feet were frozen so I had to thaw them. I had a pot of fava beans going, so I put them in a grill pan and put it on top of the bean pot.
While they were thawing, I dealt with the head. If you buy your head in Istanbul, this will be done for you, I’m pretty sure. As it was, I had to debrain and de-eyeball the head myself. I thought the eyes would be particularly hard. When the words “gouge out an eyeball” pass though anyone’s head, I bet we all have the same visceral reaction. In fact, it was such hard work I just wound up getting mad at it. Anger beats squeamishness like scissors beats paper. It took me ten minutes, a sharp knife and a pair of kitchen shears to get those damned things out. How on earth did Oedipus manage to pluck his own out? New respect!
Next I pulled out the grill plan and grilled the parts in small batches. In some of the videos this is done on a cooling rack directly over the gas flame, but I shuddered at the thought of all that good collagen going onto the stove. In others I’ve seen the meat roasted in the oven, but this worked for me, and I got to deglaze the pan with a little water after, and I think that helped the flavor.
Next, everything went into the crockpot with water to cover, a halved onion, and some salt.
I put the heat on low, set it for 15 hours, and forgot it.
I forgot it so thoroughly that I was a little confused the next morning when I woke up and wandered out to the living area, and it smelled like mutton.
(Have I mentioned my short term memory hasn’t been so great since I got batoned on the head by the riot police?)
When the fifteen hours were up I strained the broth into a dutch oven, and set about tackling the bones. Most of them were bare- the meat having entirely fallen away, but the heads still had a fair amount to be scraped off, so I set about it, not completely sure what I was doing, but making a go of it.
I then made a roux- equal parts butter and flour, and cooked it for a good long bit on low. I added cold water gradually, mixing like crazy to avoid lumps, and when I had a liquidey mixture, I added a beaten egg. I scooped out about a cup of the broth, and poured it into the egg mixture, while mixing continuously. (Brits, take note: this is called TEMPERING.) Then I mixed it into the broth, and then re-added the chopped meat along with 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, crushed, and the juice of two lemons.
It sat for the day while I went about my business.
Tonight I served it with greens, garlic water, (exactly what it sounds like- water with a bit of vinegar and a shit ton of garlic in it) and vinegar, and got praise all around.
It’d be great with bread, lots of crusty bread, but my co-eaters are on the Paleo thing so we made do.
I highly suggest you make this. It’s a marvelous, marvelous soup.