Fish Stew with Paprika

“Halpaprikás: Fish Stew with Paprika” 

Submitted by:

László Bartosiewicz,
Institute of Archaeological Sciences, Lorand Eotvos University, Hungary 

Adapted from: 

Kácsor, L. 1991. Bogrács és nyárs a vízpaton: Pot and Spit by the Water. Antológia Kiadó, Lakitelek: 129-132

Butchery and Ethnographic Info:

This recipe calls for fish between 1.5 to 5 kg. Aside from sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus L. 1758), raw materials include two species commonly found at prehistoric sites in Hungary; carp (Cyprinus carpio L. 1758) and catfish (Silurus glanis), and the method of cooking may also be considered ancient. Note that the “stratigraphy” with the head elements at the bottom, best cuts in the middle and least valuable (often fatty) parts at the top is followed in stews made from ungulates as well. The flavoring, however, is Post-Columbian. In fact, it looks mid-nineteenth century, when a clear-cut national image was defined, among others, in food (paprika), music (czárdás) and folklore (puszta). 


  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Sterlet (It is best to use all three in roughly equal weight proportion but you can also use only carp or catfish).
  • Onions, 1/7 total fish weight—chopped in 0.5cm cubes 
  • Salt
  • Hungarian powdered paprika 


Cleaning and Butchery: 
Scrape off scales and scutes. The slimy surface of the catfish may be scraped with the back of a knife or rubbed off with a rough cloth. Remove fins and rinse outside with water. Cut up the fish starting at the anus and let all the blood into the pot. It is advisable to “line” the pot with a layer of water to prevent the blood from sticking to the bottom. Intestines should be carefully removed and remain intact to the fish will not have to be washed inside thereby diluting tasty body juices. Following decapitation, split the head lengthwise. It is worthwhile, however, saving the lower lips that keep the two halves together. Place the thus opened heads at the bottom of the pot face up (i.e. with the exposed brain down). The first layer should be carp heads followed by those of catfish and sterlet. If the guests do not mind head bones, catfish and sterlet heads may be placed between subsequent layers of meat and thus distributed more evenly. Cut fish torsos into 2-3 cm wide transverse slices, starting from the cranial direction. Place slices into the pot in this order so the caudal segments form the top layer. 

Fill the pot with cold water, so that it is 4-5 cm above the fish. Add onion cubes and between one teaspoon and one tablespoon of salt depending on fish quality and individual taste. Heat slowly and evenly. As boiling starts add as much paprika as salt. In addition to quantity, the quality (degree of spiciness) of the paprika should be decided according to individual preference. When cooking on an open fire, sharply twist the cauldron every 3-5 minutes to prevent it from burning on the sides. Cooking indoors it may be wise (although unorthodox) to layer the fish in a steamer. This also makes it easier to serve the slices intact (a flat serving utensil also helps this operation). Approximately 45 minutes after cooking started, the stew is half-cooked. Taste the liquid and adjust seasonings. For the next 30-45 minutes, check the state of both meat and liquid regularly to establish the degree of preparedness. 

Recommended side dish:
should definitely be white – gnocchi, boiled rice or just white sourdough type bread. The basic idea is to let the flavors of the fish and paprika prevail. Traditionally, it is served with either white or red wine as long as it light and dry. 

Note: In addition to bones of the skeleton the carps tend to have “tendon bones” (ossicula ypsiloidea), an anatomical reality which should not faze enthusiasts.