Be adventurous and eat Hungarian style this festive period
If you have been following us, you know we have already delved into the world of fish soups. Or the fish soups of the world. However, we would love to share with you some more details about the fish soup we know best: the traditional Hungarian fish soup or halászlé (pronounced as [ˈhɒlaːsleː]), literally meaning fisherman’s soup.
And even though we are aware how everyone likes to stick to – or we can even say how everyone is emotionally attached to – preparing the traditional dishes of their family, we still encourage you to give something new a try this festive season. After all, traditions are being made all the time! And who knows? You may even get hooked on it!
While Hungary is a landlocked country, we still have some bodies of water, and not surprisingly, the three main types of our Hungarian fish soup originate from the area of the two largest rivers – the Danube and the Tisza – as well as Lake Balaton, which is endearingly named the Hungarian sea, and which happens to be the biggest lake in Central Europe.
While there are other dishes also making it to a typical Christmas dining table in a Hungarian home, our traditional fish soup is most likely to be steaming there. It is supposed to bring luc to the family.
The secret to the original halászlé – based on people’s habits – lies in the preparation method, good quality fish and in adding the right ingredients such as spices, paprika and onion. In spite of this, we still cannot say that there is only one halászlé recipe above all others. However, before we share a traditional recipe with you, let’s just quickly go through the above-mentioned varieties.
Let’s start with the Danube version, also called the Baja fish soup – named after a small town in south Hungary. The main ingredient for the classic Baja fish soup is patience as this is not an instant soup that you can put together in a few minutes but a carefully prepared, aromatic soup you will remember for a long time once you taste it. It is not a complicated dish – do not be discouraged – but it probably pays off to strictly follow instructions the first time you are making it.
The two main points that differentiate the Danube type – of which each town or city makes a slightly different version – from the others is that it is often served with pasta, and they may eat the broth and the pasta first and the fish after that. However, even more importantly than that it is considered a sin to strain the stock.
In case of the Tisza or Szeged (the biggest Hungarian city on the river) version, however, they first make a stock using onion, paprika and trimmings, then strain it and cook the carp slices in that. Therefore, when serving, the Tisza version is a much thicker and fuller dish than the Danube version.
In case of the Lake Balaton, what makes it special – besides of course the appropriate proportion of the fish used – is that right before finishing up the dish, they add a glass of light white wine. According to an old saying, a good Balaton area halászlé is made of one-third carp, one-third whitebait and one-third predator fish.
And finally, here is our recipe for the classic Hungarian fish soup:
2 kg carp
1 kg catfish
roe and milt (optional)
3 Ts oil
2 pc onion
1 pc green pepper
1 pc tomato
salt to taste
3.5 l water
Clean and fillet the fish, then cut the meat into cubes, but we put aside the head and the tail part. Finely dice the onions, pepper and tomato. Saute the onions in oil, then add the pepper and the tomato, as well as the head and the tail in the pot and pour about 1 liter of water over it. Simmer it for about 40-45 minutes on medium heat until the fish softens. Take off the meat from the fish pieces, and strain it with the vegetables and the stock. Pour the stock in a larger pot, add the remaining water and the fish (and optionally the roe and milt), as well as salt, pepper and hot or sweet paprika to taste. Cook until soft.
Serve it with fresh sourdough bread or home-made thick-cut pasta called gyufatészta (literally meaning ‘match pasta’).
Stay safe and healty!
The wor.my team
(Cover photo: mindmegette.hu, styling: Filep Kata, fotó: Tóth András)