Chiroz

Fish, sea food and fish products - Bulgaria

Chiroz is a type of salted and air-dried fish produced along Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. In the past it was produced only from Black Sea mackerel or scomber (Scomber scombrus), but after the 1960s other lean fish came into use as well. Today, the term chiroz is used to refer to the process of fish salting and drying, regardless of the species used. It is consumed as meze - an appetizer served with alcoholic drinks. Spring or early summer catches are preferred, as at these times the fish is leaner. Species that are usually used include: whiting (Merlangius merlangus euxinus), Mediterranean horse mackerel (Trachurus mediterraneus ponticus) and garpike (Belone belone). Whiting is favored as it can be found consistently in the Black Sea, has fine meat structure and dries quickly.   To prepare chiroz, the guts of the fish are removed through the gills so that fish remain intact. Over three days, the fish are covered with sea salt and left in flat tins on an inclined surface drain. Another salting method is to pickle fish for 5 - 10 hours (depending on size) in medium sea salt brine. Preferably, sea salt from local Pomorie salt evaporation ponds is used. After salting, fish are soaked in vinegar water for two hours. This step is used by some of the fishermen to stiffen the meat and to balance the salinity. Others prefer only to spray the fish with vinegar to repel flies and wasps during the drying process. For the drying, salted fish is hung tied by the tail fins. Drying is performed in dark, well-ventilated places when the weather is colder and windy. Spring is an optimal drying period. In warmer weather, the fish should be wrapped in gauze sheets to be protected from flies. Drying lasts 3 - 14 days. The best chiroz are considered to be those dried on the fishing boats, as sea moisture slows the drying and aging, making the product tastier. The finished chiroz is stored in paper bags or cardboard boxes in dry and cold places. Chiroz is traditionally served heated or lightly grilled and wrapped in moist towel (soaked in water and vinegar) left to rest for 20 - 30 min. Afterwards, the wrapped fish is broken up with a wooden hammer, the bones are removed and meat is torn into long thin pieces. If it is saltier than desired, it can be placed in acidic water for a short time. A typical dressing for chiroz is prepared from olive oil, vinegar and dill.   Fishing was a traditional livelihood along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, and typical for the ethnic Greeks in the area. The original chiroz recipe is thought to be Greek, due to the Greek origin of the name tsiros meaning 'dried scomber.' Today, 'dry as chiroz' is a popular Bulgarian saying, referring to very slim and bony people. This product is prepared traditionally from fishermen villages ranging from Durankulak to Resovo, where it can be found at local markets or in fishermen owned guesthouses. Some industrial versions are sold under the same name, but the preparation and quality is vastly inferior to the traditional version. Today, this product is at risk of disappearing due to the extinction or low populations of many traditional fish species in the Black Sea. However, chiroz made of other fish species can still be found and act as the continuation of this tradition for future generations.