Apr 7, 2010
Ukha (pronounced ooo-h’a!) is a clear Russian fish soup made with the minimum of vegetables and the maximum of different varieties of fish. To learn more about ukha, we referred to a reprint of a 1890 book from Saint Petersburg, the so called Northern capital of Russia. The book suggests almost 230 kinds of soups and around 80 soup “accessories” such as meatballs and fishballs, pelmeni, croutons, noodles, dumplings, and flavoured butters. I was surprised to find out that ingredients like Brussels sprouts, olives, and capers, as well as French wines, were widely used in Russian cuisine already in the 19th century (somehow I used to believe capers were first imported to Russia 100 years later).
We studied 23 different recipes for fish soup and compiled a method that seemed conventional enough yet applicable to modern reality. Most of the recipes called for loads of pike, sturgeon, starlet, and other kinds of fish you cannot find in an ordinary Latvian supermarket (well sometimes you cannot even buy tomatoes here – like it happened to my Mom today; if some places on Earth sound like foodie paradise, this country’s food market is rather a foodie purgatory – monotonous, limited, and pathetic). Moreover, most of the recipes suggested that you start with small and cheap fish and, when the broth was ready, you throw away that fish and add large pieces of more expensive fish. Which I think is just unfair towards the ingredients. The key point is to use several varieties of fish, so we thought of a red&white ukha with salmon and cod. The cod, which I was pretty skeptical about in the beginning, came out surprisingly tender, and I have to say that its mild flavour was even better than that of salmon! We tried to stick to all directions regarding the broth, so it came out clear and transparent.
Just one note: don’t ignore the parsley root! It’s one of the secret ingredients (like it is in a lot of soups). As soon as we decided we would be making an ukha, I ran to the market to buy a parsley root. The parsley root season has not yet started in fact, but I was lucky to find a stand where they still had some. I guess I looked pretty silly trotting from one market stall to another and asking for a single parsley root! :D
1 small cod without head or scales (approx. 500g)
500g salmon fillet
1 small onion, peeled
1 carrot, peeled
1 parsley root, peeled
4 grains black pepper
3 bay leaves
4 medium-sized waxy potatoes, peeled
Salt to taste (approx. 2/3 tsp)
Minced dills and parsley leaves, lemon for serving
Bring to a boil 2l water, add salt, carrot, onion, parsley root, bay leaves, and pepper. Boil on a medium heat for 10 minutes.
Wash the fish and remove fins and tail from the cod. Cut it into 4 pieces (leave the skin).
Cut salmon fillet into large pieces (6 might be nice if you’re going to serve the soup for 6 persons). Set aside.
After 10 minutes, add the cod to the root vegetable broth, bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes at a medium boil. Don’t forget to remove froth when necessary.
In the meantime, cut the potatoes in cubes like shown in the picture.
After 10 minutes or when the cod is ready, transfer the fish into a bowl and leave to cool. Remove all vegetables and spices from the broth, you will not need them anymore. Put the broth through a fine sieve to filter out any bits of fish or vegetables, and return it to the saucepan. Add potatoes, bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the salmon and cook for 10 minutes or until the salmon is ready.
In the meantime, remove skin and bones from the cooked cod and divide it into large pieces.
Return the cod fillets into the saucepan after your ukha is ready.
Serve hot with fresh herbs and a slice of lemon per serving.
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