Fish Head Soup is a Russian fishermen's soup, cooked on the river banks where they caught the fish. Called Ukha, a simple and rustic fish soup recipe with potatoes, fresh dill and maybe a tiny bit of vodka.
What is Ukha?
Ukha Fish Head Soup (Уха) is a rustic Russian Fisherman's Soup that has been eaten for hundreds of years. Traditionally fishermen cook this outdoors in a pot, over an open fire. In the summer, we would go trout fishing and make this soup while camping. While that can be still done today, most of us use an indoor kitchen to make Ukha over a stove.
Growing up, I hated Ukha Fish Head Soup for 2 reasons, the fish heads and the fish bones. My grandpa would even eat the fish head, saying it was the tastiest part. I wanted no part of this meal! I also don't like fish bones in meat, and picking out small bones. This fish head soup was my worst nightmare. Did I mention the fish heads?
Well I call this my new and improved Ukha Fish Head Soup, where you still get the healthy minerals and vitamins from the Salmon bones, without eating the gross stuff. After straining the soup, the fish meat is skinless and boneless leaving chunky fillet chunks of meat that are added towards the end of the soup making process. Leaving a simple, clear and delicious rustic soup.
Stalin's Fish Head Soup Recipe
The USSR published a cookbook called The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food (Книга о вкусной и здоровой пище) which was written by Soviet scientists, first published in 1939 then in 1952 which became a staple in the Soviet kitchen. Sometimes it's referred to as Stalin's cookbook. There was a recipe for Ukha Soup which I will post the original Russian version at the bottom of the post.
What Kind of Fish Do I Use for Fish Head Soup?
When making a fish broth, it doesn't matter what type of fish you use to make your fish head soup. Traditionally this soup was made with river and lake fish, but ocean fish work perfectly. As the fish heads cook, the fish flavors and nutrients create a tasty broth, so no need to discriminate against any fish for the broth.
However, the hero of the dish is the chunks of fish fillets that you use in the soup. In Stalin's cookbook, they recommend using Sturgeon and Perch and specifically prefer river fish, but you can use any fish you like that's meaty. I like using Salmon and Trout, and in the video I used Salmon and Perch.
How to Clarify Fish Broth
Ukha Soup is meant to be a very clear broth, as clear as water, without any impurities or floaties. You want to get it as clear as possible, but most fishermen don't when making this soup on the riverbank. To clarify, I simply strain the broth through a cheesecloth and colander. However, the Book of Tasty and Healthy Food recommends using ground caviar to clarify the broth.
You can also clarify using the egg white method. Beat 2 egg whites until they are white, mix in some cold water, and pour into your boiling broth. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, then strain through a cheesecloth. The floaties in the broth bind to the egg whites, leaving your broth clear.
When Ukha is clarified properly, it is a beautiful looking soup to eat, clear and full of flavor. It's more of a step I would take if serving this for company, not how this soup is usually made. Simply straining the soup using a cheesecloth is a great timesaver for me, and it still looks and tastes great!
If you only use fish heads and tails, the fish broth will look a bit clearer, as the meaty parts of the fish frame will slightly cloud the soup.
Easy Fish Soup
Not all fish soup recipes need to be cooked outdoors, over a campfire, using fish heads! There are other ways to make Ukha. Sauté some onions and celery until caramelized, add water and bring to a boil, then throw in the fish pieces, diced potatoes, bay leaf and seasonings. This soup can be ready in about 20 minutes, but it will lack the depth that making a proper fish head broth will bring.
I get it, you don't always have the time to make fancy recipes from scratch. You can cheat and use vegetable broth instead of fish bones, but then it's not really Ukha, but a vegetable soup with fish. There is a difference, experiment and see what you like.
Vodka in Fish Soup
Ok, this is a weird title, but it's a thing! It is completely optional, but throw in a shot of vodka into the Ukha Soup. It might be a bit cliche, think of a Russian fisherman, hanging out with his buddies on a fishing trip, cooking Ukha over a fire, and flavoring it with a bit of Vodka. Maybe it's not that different from an Italian Nonna cooking and adding in Red Wine into the Lasagna Meat Sauce. So it's up to you, to Vodka or not to Vodka?
How to Make Fish Head Soup
First of all, you don't need to make this over a campfire like I did, but it is a great camping recipe, especially if you like fishing. You can make it in the comfort of your home on your stovetop. The fish heads need to simmer for at least 45 minutes, and even longer is ok. You want the cartilage to start breaking down into your broth. When you broth is done, then you need to strain the soup, or at least remove the chunky fish heads and fish frames.
Making the fish soup is the easy part. The potatoes cook faster than the chunky fish pieces. You don't want the fish pieces too small or they will fall apart. Bring the fish stock to a boil, throw in the cubed potatoes (with bay leaves) for about 10 minutes. Then add the fish pieces and cook until for another 10 minutes until it's all cooked. This fish soup recipe loves black pepper, and season with salt to taste. And don't forget the fresh dill!
- For extra depth when making fish bone broth, throw in a chicken bone (like a drumstick) at the same time. Some people love the balance that chicken brings to the fish broth.
- When using Salmon or Trout which are fatty fish, it's nice to balance out with a white flesh fish, I used Perch
- Use a brown onion, and don't peel it when making the broth! The onion skin will make the broth deeper and richer in color.
- When the fish head stock starts to boil out, just add more water so you have enough for the soup
- Celery isn't usually added, but some people like it in their broths. Add 2 celery ribs when making the fish head broth.
- Add extra fish fillets. Don't be stingy, especially if making more fish broth than recipe calls for (only 12 cups of broth)
- Freeze the Fish Stock to use another day!
Fish Recipes You Have to Try!
- Salmon Kulebyaka - traditionally served with Russian Fish Soup
- Lohikeitto - Creamy Finnish Salmon Soup
- Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl
- Salmon Gravlax with Beets
- How to Eat Caviar
Some of you didn't know that you can make a Fish Head Soup, and that it would be so healthy and tasty. As we call it, Russian Ukha Fish Head Soup (some people spell it Uha), it's a basic and rustic fisherman's soup recipe. So easy to follow, even a man can make it, (vodka optional). 🤣 Bon Appetit! Приятного аппетита!
Fish Head Broth
- 1 large Salmon/trout frame bones, including head and tail
- 1 onion peeled and cut in half
- 1 carrot optional
- 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 12 cups water
Ukha Fish Soup
- 3 medium potatoes peeled and cubed
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 lb /500g Salmon and Perch fillets boneless and skinless
- 1 shot Vodka optional
- bunch of dill
- chopped green onion as garnish optional
- salt and pepper to taste
Fish Head Broth
- In a large pot, put the Salmon frame and head, the onion, 1 teaspoon of salt and whole peppercorns and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Skim off any impurities.
- Strain the soup through a cheesecloth inside a colander (over a large bowl) the ensure the broth is clear and free of impurities. Discard the Salmon bones.
Ukha Fish Soup
- Return fish stock to the pot and add the chopped potatoes and bay leafs. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
- Add the boneless Salmon and Perch pieces, which should be cut in chunky 2" cubed pieces. If the pieces are cut too small and thin, they will fall apart. Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Add chopped dill, optional vodka, season with salt and pepper according to taste. This recipe loves black pepper.
- Garnish with chopped green onion or parsley.
Ukha (Уха) Fish Soup Recipe from the Classic Soviet Cookbook - The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food (1952)
УХА - Книга о вкусной и здоровой пище (1952)
Наиболее вкусная уха приготовляется из живой рыбы (стерляди, окуня). Уху можно варить также из судака или разной мелкой рыбы, за исключением карася и линя. Для придания ухе необходимой клейкости мелкую рыбу – ершей и окуней – следует варить, не счищая с них чешуи, выпотро шенными, тщательно промытыми. У окуней кроме внутрен ностей надо удалить и жабры, иначе бульон получит горько ватый привкус.
Подготовленную рыбу положить в кастрюлю, залить холодной водой, добавить очищенные коренья, лук, соль и варить при медленном кипении от 40 минут до часа. После этого бульон процедить.
Для того, чтобы получить прозрачную уху, надо произвести оттягивание (осветление) паюсной или зернистой икрой. Для этого 50 г икры растереть в ступке, постепенно добавляя по ложке холодной воды, до получения тестообразной массы. Растертую икру развести стаканом холодной воды, добавить стакан горячей ухи и, размешав, влить в два приема в кастрюлю с горячей ухой.
После того как будет влита первая часть, уха должна закипеть, и только тогда можно влить остальную часть оттяжки. При вторичном закипании ухи крышку с кастрюли снять и варить при слабом кипении 15–20 минут.
Когда уха будет готова, ее надо снять с огня и дать постоять 10–15 минут, чтобы оттяжка осела на дно кастрюли. После этого осторожно процедить. Готовую уху подают с ку лебякой, расстегаем. В тарелку с ухой можно положить ку сок вареной рыбы.
На 1 кг рыбы – по 1 шт. репчатого лука, лука порея, петрушки и сельдерея, 2 ½–3 л воды.