Let’s talk about fish. Long ago, Russians ate fish in areas near rivers and lakes, as well as at the seaside. Nowadays, you can buy fish in every city, although it is more tasty and fresh in the areas where it is caught. In Russia, there are a great number of fish dishes, some traditional and some more modern. Since the days of yore fish have been fried, salted and dried; baked in pies, put in soups and broths. Practically all the fish species that were caught, could be eaten – depending on the fishing area and the habitat. There are many famous dishes made from sturgeon, chub, sterlet, eel, catfish, perch, burbot and many other species.
The most famous fish dish is ukha. Ukha is a fish soup.
Originally, it was prepared from a single species, for example, from minnows, perch, pike or ruffe. In fact – it could be cooked from any type of fish caught by the fisherman. Later, ukha was cooked from at least 3 species, but this rule is not always observed. Everything depends on the fisherman’s luck and the chef’s view on the recipe of the dish. Ukha is quite an easy soup to make. Besides the fish, which is usually cooked with its head, the ingredients include potatoes, onions (some people prefer to add them unpeeled), carrots, salt, pepper and garnish – at your discretion. It is considered proper during the cooking to pour a little bit of vodka in the cooking pot. And, of course, the tastiest ukha is the one made over a live fire after lucky fishing!
Another interesting fish dish is sun-dried fish. The most popular is sun-dried vobla. Its name has become a denominative, this is what other sun-dried fish from other species are called. The ziege is not less tasty, and bream is not bad at all!
The whole fishes (not scaled nor gutted) are abundantly covered with salt and placed in a container (enamel vessel) under pressure for about a day. They are then soaked in water for several hours (running water is preferable) and hung in a dry ventilated place, protected from insects with a mesh or gauze. The fish are dried for approximately 3 days to a week, depending on their size, after which the product is ready for consumption. These fish have a pretty long shelf life, but they are tastier when fresh. An overdried fish not only loses its savor, but it’s dangerous as well – not only for the consumer’s health, but for the surrounding implements. There is a scene in the cartoon series “Nu Pogodi!” (a Russian analogue of Tom and Jerry), where Wolf, desperately trying to scale an old vobla, unintentionally breaks a TV set with it. The fact is, this is not such a big exaggeration.
Fish in Aspic: This dish resembles kholodets in some sense: its a fish in a clear jelly made from fish stock. Unlike with kholodets, gelatin or agar-agar - a natural gelatin-making substance - is added to the stock to make the jelly. Sturgeon in aspic is a famous dish, it used to be a welcome guest on the tables of merchants, noblemen, princes and even tsars. Nowadays everyone can afford to enjoy it, at least sometimes. The fishes of the sturgeon family are protected species, their commercial fishing is prohibited. The fish on the family tables and in restaurants are bred in fish farms.
Speaking of fish, it’s impossible not to mention caviar. In the time of Tsarist Russia, there were plenty of fish from the sturgeon and salmon families, but even in those days their caviar was considered a gourmet food. Today, because of centuries of commercial fishing, there are less fish, the fishing of some species is banned and the prices of caviar (especially the prices of black caviar) have skyrocketed. That is why until today a wealthy person is often described to be “eating caviar with a spoon”. Of course, caviar is not eaten with a spoon (nobody wants to get overloaded with protein). It can be spread on bread or added to salads. Red and black caviar is a very healthy and incredibly tasty product.
Eating fish is recommended at least twice a week to get all necessary nutrients and micro elements.
Russian people consume crayfish as well. They can be boiled in salty water and used to make soups. Not long ago, people started to add them to salads. For a long time, crayfish soup used to be a favorite dish on noblemen’s and tsar’s tables.