What is ukha?
Ukha is a clear Russian soup made from root vegetables and fish such as sturgeon, cod, salmon, and catfish, and seasoned with herbs and spices.
What is the origin of ukha?
Ukha is a traditional rustic fish dish that dates back to the 11th century. Originating as a simple game and vegetable broth, the Russians introduced fish to the recipe toward the end of the 16th and beginning of 17th century, and since then, fish has been the primary ingredient.
Toward the end of the 17th century, ukha was the name that was given to fish soups exclusively across Russia. Over many years, this dish has evolved to become one of the most popular recipes in Russian cuisine today.
Why is fish so important in Russian cooking?
Fish have been a fundamental basic in Russian cooking for centuries. They were plentiful throughout the Russian Empire, and with the ability to preserve and store, fish became the staple which saw Russia through many food shortages.
Amid these shortages, the government issued propaganda posters across Russia, urging everyone to store and consume fish. They also introduced “Fish Days” every Thursday. Government-run eat-in cafés and canteens only served fish on Thursdays in various meals, both hot and cold.
During the 1930s and 40s, Russia started to can its fish in order to sustain a longer shelf life, and by the time WWII hit Russia, there were around 55 different varieties of canned fish across the country.
In the 1960s, the availability of meat and freshwater fish was again becoming sporadic, so the Russians looked at using squid as a viable alternative. Although the regularity of the catches was unreliable, squid was easy to store, and so versatile that it quickly became a widely popular ingredient in Russian cuisine.
Throughout many decades, fish and its by-products have persisted through several food droughts. These have supplied Russia with an endless source of nutrition through its poorest times.
How to prepare a fish
Some fishmongers will fully prepare a fish when being asked, however, there may be an additional cost for this. When preparing a whole fish, follow the comprehensive guide here.
For this ukha recipe though, it’s fine to use frozen fish, and in fact, this can usually be a more cost-effective way to make the soup. Make sure the fish is thoroughly defrosted before adding to the broth.
Variations of ukha
There are four main variations of ukha, all of which use fish as the main ingredient.
- White ukha is made with white fish such as sea bass, cod, and catfish. White fish doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual color of the fish, rather, it’s a term used to describe the mildness of flavor.
- Black ukha uses fish from the Cyprinidae (carp) family, found in the Black Sea.
- Red ukha has salmon as the main ingredient. Other red fish, such as sturgeon, can also be used.
- The fourth style of ukha is Tsar “Amber” ukha. This was tailored for the wealthier locals. It is prepared with chicken broth, and saffron was used to give it a warm amber color.
When to eat ukha
In a similar vein to other traditional fishermen’s soups, such as chupín de pescado, for example, ukha was traditionally cooked over an open fire by the fishermen on their return from the day’s catch.
It has been said that they would fish in the clearest of waters and use the same clear water to cook the ukha in. Which is why the end result is a light, clear, delicious soup.
Ukha plays a vital role in Russian Orthodox fast days. Because meat is forbidden, fish is eaten in its place.
The versatility of this Russian favorite allows it to be part of a main meal or eaten on its own. It can be enjoyed both hot and cold, although normally it is enjoyed hot, and freshly served from the cooking pot.
To enjoy an authentic ukha, the recipe has to be finished by adding a shot of vodka to the cooking pot.
- 1 lb fish scraps (heads, tails)
- 1 onion , cut in half
- 1 carrot , cut in half
- 6 peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 12 cups cold water
- 1 lb sturgeon , cut into pieces
- 1 lb salmon , cut into pieces
- ½ lb cod , cut into pieces
- 1 carrot , sliced
- ½ leek , diced
- 3 potatoes , diced
- 1 small parsnip (or 1 small turnip), diced
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped tarragon
- 1 pinch nutmeg , freshly grated
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- Place the fish scraps in a saucepan, add the cold water over them, and season with salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil, skim and reduce the heat.
- Add the onion and carrot, continue cooking over low to medium heat for 30 minutes, skimming occasionally if necessary.
- Remove the onion, carrot and fish scraps, finely strain the broth.
- In a pot, bring the broth to a boil again, add the sturgeon, cod, carrot, leek, and parsnip or turnip. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
- Remove the sturgeon and the cod and set aside, then add the potatoes to the broth and cook for 25 minutes.
- Add the salmon and cook for 10 minutes.
- Return the sturgeon and cod to the pot, add the nutmeg and fennel seeds, cover and cook for 10 minutes over low to medium heat.
- Remove the pot from the heat, add the dill, tarragon, and parsley, cover and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.