A most amazing fish soup with whole cooked potatoes, vegetables and Romanian garlic sauce.
My masterpiece when it comes to this Dobrogea series: a really genuine fish soup recipe received from a genuine dobrogean, that is somebody who lives in the region and who has been eating this soup all his life.
An easy to make soup actually, pretty quick to make as well, considering that you start with making your own fish broth, but… The main problem I had was finding the necessary fish sorts required for the recipe. Needless to say, considering that I am living almost 2000 km away from the Danube Delta, finding the exact sorts of needed fish was not easy. Well, I did not find all I needed, but a few fish I did find, I replaced some others and in the end I made the best fish soup I have ever eaten.
Another serious deviation from the original recipe was the water I used to cook the soup. Paul told me this soup is actually made with water taken directly from the Danube and that it is this water that gives the soup its special taste. Of course, I could not get any Danube water here and to tell you the truth, I am pretty sure I would not have used it even if I had had the possibility. I am afraid I am way too squeamish for something like that… 🙂
But back to the fish, there were several sorts of fish mentioned in the recipe, fish like (ok, wait a second, I need a dictionary here…): carp, crucian, catfish, black bass, pike, zander, mackerel, grey mullet and another two fish kinds for which I found no translation at all… Most of these fish are freshwater fish, the mackerel and the grey mullet are apparently saltwater fish. The recipe recommends using as many sorts of these fish as possible.
Well, I tried and tried, went to several supermarkets and the only two fish stands I could find in the area, but I really had a hard time finding the freshwater fish. In the end I had the mackerel and the zander and I was lucky to still have frozen pike parts from the pike my husband brought home in June. I was so sure I would be able to find the carp, I had seen it several times in the Russian store, but nothing now. So I got an extra trout, which you can find anywhere here and used the head and the tail parts of a salmon to make the fish broth.
So I guess using salmon in a Danube fish soup is pretty sacrilegious, but I had no choice and after all I love salmon and I use it to make soup often and I knew it tastes good, so I dared… Sorry…
But, I am happy to report that I used all the recommended vegetables and other things mentioned in the recipe: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, egg and smetana/creme fraiche. That’s easy, isn’t it? And we so loved the soup, my husband and I of course, the children only ate one potato each, they are still at an age when fish is scary, especially when it comes in form of a soup. And I kind of understand them, I would not have touched fish at their age if you paid me to and I only started liking fish soup a couple of years ago when I made this Easy Fish and Vegetable Soup with Pollock Fillets for the first time. Or this Fish Stock and Fish Soup with Salmon Balls.
So thanks to Paul and his friend Marcelino, who gave him this recipe, I managed to make the best fish soup I have ever had, even if I was so stressed with finding the right sorts of fish for it. Do give it a try, you will not regret it! And even if you will have to replace all those fish with fish that is available in your area, I am still sure you will love this soup.
How to make the fish broth and the fish soup:
Like mentioned above I used the head and tail of a salmon, the defrosted head and tail of this pike and the head and tail of the fresh trout I bought for this soup. Making the broth is very easy, just cook the fish parts and some vegetables for half an hour, not more, strain the broth and discard the fish parts and some of the veggies. I kept the carrots, the parsnip and the bell pepper, which I then chopped in small cubes and gave to the finished fish soup.
Strain the broth twice, once through a regular strainer and before making the soup through a fine mesh strainer, so that most of the residue will be left behind and soup will be clearer. You could even sieve it through a muslin cloth, but I didn’t bother.
There was still some flesh to be picked on the various fish parts used to make the broth. I’ve read that the people of Dobrogea would completely discard all the fish parts and small fish used to make the broth, but I couldn’t do that, so I picked everything I still found on the bones and gave these bits and pieces to the finished soup at the end of the cooking time. Carefull with the tiny bones, you don’t want them in your soup.
To make the actual soup I used fresh vegetables, but still gave the carrots and bell pepper used for the broth to the soup, they were only cooked for half an hour, so were not overcooked like they are when making chicken stock for instance. You should use rather small potatoes, which are left whole, if they are larger, do halve them. I cooked two potatoes per serving, so a total of 12 small potatoes for the soup, which should generously feed 6 people.
The fish should also be left whole if possible, or when cut, they should be cut in large pieces. I did cut my fish, the pike was already in pieces, the zander I could only get in fillets and the mackerel and the trout were too long for my pot, so I cut them in half. Whatever you do, do not overcook the fish, if cut into pieces, it will only need 5 to 10 minutes to be cooked through but still tender. When it comes to fish, I would rather undercook it than cook it for too long.
It is important to add the salt and the vinegar together with the fish to the pot. They will prevent the fish from falling apart.
The amount of vinegar used to sour the soup is according to your taste. The soup should be rather sour and as I like to put vinegar in soups I used about 4 or 5 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and added a bit more directly to my plate. However, start with only 2 or 3 tablespoons and only add more after tasting.
How to serve the fish soup:
The fish and the fish soup are actually served separately. You will lift the fish parts and the potatoes out of the soup and place them on a platter. You will have the soup with vegetables and some garlic sauce as the first course and the fish and the potatoes with more garlic sauce as a second course. Well, I did leave the potatoes in the soup and ate the fish on the side, it was delicious, so either way, you decide, it tastes great anyway.
Don’t leave out the garlic sauce (mujdei de usturoi) though, it makes all the difference in the world! And try to get some fresh lovage, it is the perfect fit for this fish soup. You could use parsley instead, but lovage is really a better fit, lots of it. I actually had to ask my mother-in-law, I knew she had some lovage in her garden, my lovage refused to grow this year, I only had about three tiny sprigs of it, which were gone already months ago.
And place some pickled hot peppers on the table as well.
And if you would like to see the other Dobrogea recipes from this series have a look at these links:
- For the fish broth:
- head and tail of a salmon
- head and tail of a pike
- head and tail of a trout
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 onion
- 1 parsnip
- 1 piece of celeriac
- 1 medium tomato
- ½ red bell pepper
- 1 small hot pepper
- For the fish soup
- 12 small potatoes (two per person)
- about 1 kg/ 2.2 lbs fish like: (See note)
- 1 trout
- 1 mackerel
- 2 large zander fillets
- 2-4 pieces pike
- 2 medium carrots
- second half of the red bell pepper
- 1 onion
- 3-5 tablespoons white wine vinegar or more to taste
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons smetana/ crème fraiche
- a bunch of lovage (or parsley if lovage is unavailable)
- 5-7 garlic cloves, depending on size
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- salt and pepper
To make the fish broth give the head and tails of the fish to a large pot. Chop the vegetables roughly and give them to the pot as well. Cover with about 2 liter/ 68 fl.oz/ 8 ½ cups water, bring to a boil and simmer gently for half an hour.
Strain the broth. Pick some of the fish flesh from the bones, if you like and reserve them for the finished soup. Reserve the carrots and the bell pepper as well. Chop them into smaller cubes and give them to the finished soup at the end of the cooking time.
Strain the broth again through a finer sieve or a muslin cloth. Clean the pot and give the fish broth back to the pot.
Peel the potatoes but leave them whole. Only halve them if they are large (and use only 6 potatoes if they are larger). Give them to the pot and bring to a boil. Start chopping the onion, carrots and bell pepper used for the soup into small cubes and give them to the soup as soon as they are chopped. Leave to cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are almost done.
Halve the larger fish, like the trout and mackerel. Give them to the soup together with 1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste) and the vinegar. Start with 2 tablespoons vinegar and add more to taste. It is important to add the salt and vinegar together with the fish to the pot, it will prevent the fish from falling apart.
Leave to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until cooked but still tender and not overcooked. The fish will continue cooking in the soup after you turn off the heat, so don't worry about the fish being still uncooked.
While the fish is still simmering, give the egg to a small bowl. Add the smetana or crème fraiche and whisk well. Slowly add two ladles hot soup to the egg mixture while whisking all the time. This will temper the mixture, so that it will not curdle when you give it to the soup. Pour the egg smetana mixture slowly to the soup while whisking. Take off the heat immediately. Give the reserved fish bits and vegetables from the broth to the soup.
Adjust the taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar, if necessary. Chop the lovage and give it to the soup just before serving.
To make the garlic sauce grate the garlic cloves into a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and slowly whisk in the vegetable oil. Add about 125 ml/ ½ cup cold water and mix well. If the sauce is too strong for your taste, you could add a bit more water.
To serve lift the fish and the potatoes from the soup and place them on a serving platter. Serve the soup with some garlic sauce and more vinegar, if you like, as a first course and the fish and the potatoes with more garlic sauce as a second course. Or serve everything together as a single course.
You can use other fish sorts like: carp, crucian, catfish, black bass, pike, zander, mackerel, grey mullet. You will need about 1 -1.2 kg / 2.2 - 2.6 lbs fish, weighed after cleaning it and removing the heads and tails.