Salmon ukha, Russia’s oldest known soup, suits any occasion

Salmon ukha, Russia’s oldest known soup, suits any occasion

There is perhaps not a single dish that is more fundamentally Russian than ukha (pronounced oo-KHA). It is the oldest known Russian soup, dating to the 11th century. As happens with dishes with deep roots, there are as many styles and contradicting must-have ingredients as there are cooks (It must have potatoes! No, never potatoes, and only with carp. What do you mean you don’t use lemon? It’s not ukha unless cooked in a cauldron outdoors!)

Still, the dish manages to transcend socioeconomic boundaries and suits every occasion and circumstance.


Use whatever salmon looks freshest to you at the store; any cut/thickness should work, but try to avoid the tail end. Try to find sour cream that lists no more than two ingredients — cream and cultures — and omits stabilizers and other additives.

Salmon stock, made with fresh fish bones, is essential for the best flavor.

Make Ahead: The stock can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance or frozen for up to 6 months.

Where to Buy: Salmon bones can be found at seafood stores or well-stocked supermarkets at the seafood counter if you ask the fishmonger for them.


For the stock

  • 2 pounds salmon bones, including heads (gills removed) and trim (a.k.a. fish scraps that aren’t bones)
  • 1 small yellow onion (4 to 5 ounces), trimmed of roots but unpeeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (may substitute with 1 dried)

For the ukha

  • Fine salt
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds young, thin-skinned waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 8 ounces fresh salmon fillet, skinned and pin bones removed (see headnote)

For serving

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (see headnote)
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 to 6 paper-thin, half-moon slices of lemon
  • 1 handful thinly sliced scallion
  • A few sorrel leaves, chiffonade (may substitute with watercress)
  • 1 ounce salmon roe (optional)

Step 1

Make the stock: In a large stockpot, combine the fish bones and trim, onion and bay leaves, and add enough water to cover (it should take about 8 cups). Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, occasionally skimming the gray foam that rises to the surface, until the stock is flavorful and turns light golden, about 1 hour, adding more water as needed to keep the ingredients submerged. (If the simmer is gentle, you should be okay.)

Step 2

Make the ukha: Remove the pot from the heat, strain the stock and discard the solids. Return the strained broth to the pot (rinse the pot if bones or other ingredients are stuck in it). Season to taste with salt. Add the potatoes and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 5 minutes. Potatoes will absorb a lot of salt, so be sure to taste and add more, if needed. Add the bell pepper and let simmer until slightly softened, 1 to 2 minutes, then gently add the salmon. Cook until the fish begins to flake, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the salmon to a cutting board and dice into bite-size chunks. (It will continue to cook in the hot soup, so don’t worry if it’s a touch undercooked in the center.)

Step 3

Divide the cooked fish evenly among bowls, then ladle in the soup. Add a splash of lemon juice, a pat of butter, a dollop of sour cream and a small pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to each bowl, and stir until the butter melts and sour cream is mixed in. Garnish with a lemon slice, scallions, sorrel and salmon roe (if using), and serve.

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