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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WHAT IS IT? : Russia's Oldest Soup Still Tastes Great

Ukha, an aromatic fish soup favored by many Russians because of its rich but light flavor, is considered to be the oldest Russian soup.

"If a turtle soup is a national soup for the English, then for Russians ukha can be admitted as the most national soup," the great French chief Antonie Car?me said.

Back in the 12th century, the word ukha meant not only fish soup, but any broth: meat, fish or vegetable. In the literature of that time, there is mention of ukha made of peas and even plums.

Gradually, other broths got names of their own and ukha was used only for fish stock with a minimum of vegetables added -- some potatoes, carrots and the indispensable onion.

Many kinds of fish -- both river and sea -- can be used to make the soup. Ideally, it should be freshly caught: The fresher the fish, the tastier the ukha. Usually, it is made of two, three or even four kinds of fish. Among the exceptions are krasnaya (red) or yantarnaya (amber) ukha, prepared of the most valuable sorts of fish -- beluga or salmon. One of these is enough to make a strong and fragrant soup.

The generous use of various herbs and spices is peculiar to ukha. It may be leek and spring onion, parsley, dill, bay, tarragon, parsnip, black pepper, and, for some kinds of ukha, saffron, ginger or nutmeg. The assortment depends on the fish: Fattier fish requires more spices.

To get the original taste and aroma it is very important to follow the right procedure.

First, a bouillon of salted vegetable broth must be made and brought to a boil. The fish is added for a short time (7 to 20 minutes, depending on the fish). The fish should not be overcooked. The vegetables are added with the fish, and the seasonings are added at the very end of the cooking.

For the rybatskaya, or fishermen's, ukha, which is especially strong and thick, the bouillon is first cooked from cleaned, but unpeeled, small fish, like ruff or perch, which should be simmered for about an hour. Then the stock is strained through a fine sieve into a clean pot, and pieces of larger fish, like pike-perch -- along with coarsely chopped onion, a crushed clove of garlic, some cubed potatoes, pepper and salt -- are added.

The version of rybatskaya ukha prepared with two or three kinds of fish, each of which makes a distinct contribution to the soup's flavor, is called dvoinaya or troinaya (double or triple) and is especially respected.

The ukha family is large and international. People living in northern Russia cook molochnaya, or milk, ukha, for which they put peeled sea fish, salt and butter into boiling milk. And in southern Russia, ukha with tomatoes is widely appreciated.

Many Moscow restaurants that serve traditional Russian food have the dish on their menus. Traktir Yolki Palki on Bolshaya Dmitrovka in the city center, for example, serves Suvorovskaya pokhlyobka, or fish soup ? la Souvoroff, prepared from different kinds of sturgeon. Highly praised by the legendary military hero, the 200-year-old recipe for this dish is guarded by the staff. The only available information is that a portion costs 28 rubles ($4.75).

If you are puzzled over foods you find in Russia, please e-mail Tanya Mosolova at mosolova@