Unfortunately, we Hungarians are not a fish eating nation, the annual fish consumption is insignificant, only the fish sales during the Christmas season can improve the statistics. Though we don’t have seashore, Hungary is rich of lakes and rivers, therefore a wide range of fresh water fish is available. If Hungarians bring themselves to eat fish, they choose fisherman’s soup or fried fish.
Fisherman’s soup (or halászlé) is prepared with carp or mixed fresh water fish, and with generous amounts of paprika (both sweet and hot). Among Hungarian dishes, halászlé is arguably is one of the hottest, if not the hottest. The homeland of fisherman’s soup is the Danube and Tisza river regions. There are several halászlé variations, but the 2 main rivals are the recipes from Szeged and Baja. Fisherman’s soup a la Szeged is made of four different kinds of fish and generally passed through a sieve. Fisherman’s soup a la Baja is made of different kinds of fish, approximately 75% is carp. It’s served with homemade soup pasta called gyufatészta (match noodles).
There are debates to the knife if fish stock should be passed through a sieve or not. This process is a native of the modern age, it was devised by the restaurants, fishermen didn’t waste time with trifles. They made it as simple as possible, the “right” ratio of spices was much more important. Many dedicated fishermen therefore regarded their recipe as top secret.
My grandad on the left
Me and my family love fish, we often eat it fried or roasted, or as a soup. Our enthusiasm for fish is owing to my grandfather, who worked as a fisherman for nearly 20 years on the Körös river in the first half of the 20th century. We cook fisherman’s soup according to his recipe, which he learnt from his master, who came from Csongrád. We use different kinds of fish (carp, brown bullhead, catfish), and as opposed to the widespread practice, we slowly simmer the soup over low heat for 2 hours, so fish can release the aroma without falling to pieces. If you have a bogrács, it’s worth cooking the soup in it because smoke gives it a better taste.
- 1 kg (~2 lb) fresh-water fish, sliced
- 3-3,5 l (~6-7 pt) water
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp sweet ground paprika
- 1/4 tbsp hot ground paprika
- 1 green pepper
- 1 medium tomato
- 100 g (~3/4 cup) tarhonya (egg barley)
Place the fish slices and water in a bogrács or pot. Add finely chopped onion and bring it to a boil. When the liquid boils, add paprika (fat of the fish releases by that time and paprika can dissolve in it), salt, whole green pepper and whole tomato. Over low heat simmer slowly for 2 hours; shake the bogrács or pot from time to time, do not stir the soup in order to avoid damaging the fish slices. Add egg barley 20 minutes before the two-hour cooking time comes to an end, and keep simmering until the noodles are tender. Serve hot, with white bread and hot green pepper slices.