This halászlé, the soup of the fishermen of the Donau and the Tisza, may fall into the category “soup”, but could equally be called a carp goulash. It is world-famous in the whole of Hungary and in all the neighbouring countries, and a bit notorious, too, for this soup is meant to be spicy, and with spice we mean really spicy. Probably because it can be mighty cold on the water, in winter time.
“Ponty”, carp, that is the main ingredient. Carp is the most eaten fish in Hungary, and you don’t have to buy a fish that has been staying at the fishmonger’s for so long that it couldn’t possibly recollect what water felt like. In Hungary, carp can be bought alive and kicking at practically every (super)market.
As with all traditional recipes, there are almost as many variations as there are cooks. This is a basic recipe for halaszle, simpel, as all things perfect are simple.
for this Hungarian fish soup we need:
2 – 3 dried hot peppers
2 tbsp. sweet paprika
Clean the carp, or let the fishmonger do it for you. Cut off the head and the tail and wash them with cold water.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Chop the onions and add them to the boiling water, together with the head and tail of the carp and the peppers. Let it boil for 1 hour. Don’t skim it: leave it as it is.
Meanwhile cut the fish in thick slices. Season with salt and set them apart.
After the halászlé has been cooking for an hour, stir in two generous spoonfuls of sweet paprika. Add the slices of carp and reduce the heat: the soup must only slightly simmer from now on. Don’t stir, for that may break the slices of fish, at the most go over the bottom of the pot carefully with a wooden spoon to make sure nothing sticks to it.
When the fish is done, the soup is ready to eat. That will take 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of the slices of carp. Don’t let it cook for too long if you don’t want it to fall apart in dry, tasteless lumps.
Put a slice of carp on a plate and spoon the soup over it. Serve with bread or broad noodles.