Legendary Dishes | Halászlé (freshwater fish stew)


Paprika changed the humble freshwater fish stew of Hungary. Once made with the great pikes and sturgeons of Laka Balaton and with lesser fish like carp and catfish, stewed whole in an apple, black bread and onion stock, the freshwater fish stew called Halászlé Szeged was transformed with the arrival of hot paprika. The 1698 ‘Booklet of Chef Craft’ reported the old method. 

‘If you want to cook carp or any fish like it, handle it as follows: gut the fish and if it is clean enough, salt it and let it stand in salt while you prepare its liquid; toast thin slices of bread till they are black and throw them into water to get rid of their burnt smell, then take them out of water and put into a jar, add water, wine and vinegar, cook it all well, then filter it through a sieve; cut apple and onion, fry it in honey together with some cracked walnut and cook it with the fish which previously was freed from the salt and flavour the dish with black pepper, ginger, clove, salt, honey to have it real sweet; serve it hot.’

No longer charcoal black, Halászlé Szeged is now blood red, and spicy hot. The onions remain but it is the relentless paprika that defines the dish.

  • 3 kg freshwater fish
  • 2 litres water
  • 1.5 kg onions, chopped
  • 80 g Hungarian hot paprika 

Wash, top, tail and fillet fish. 

Set fillets aside, place the heads, tails and bones in a large pot of water with the onions and half the paprika. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Strain stock into a clean pot.

Cut the fillets into equal sized pieces.

Bring stock to the boil, turn heat to low and simmer fish pieces for 15 minutes. Add remaining paprika, serve in bowls.