The traditional Christmas meal in much of Eastern Europe consists of fried carp. This is a common festive dish in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Poland and the Baltic States.
With a substantial Polish population in the UK, there will be high demand for carp over the festive season. Some local fishmongers, Oriental stores and supermarkets, including Morrison’s, stock the fish, although demand outstrips supply at Christmas time.
In Europe, it is the habit to buy live carp and keep them alive in the bathtub or a bucket until Christmas, to ensure they are eaten fresh. This also helps to cleanse the fish so it doesn’t taste muddy. The preference for live fish landed some Czech gourmets in trouble a year ago, when they attempted to smuggle some live carp into the country in the boot of their car.
The fish is skinned and deboned, which is quite a tricky job, as the carp has a seemingly endless supply of bones. The carp is then dusted with a little butter, crushed garlic, salt and pepper. The fillets are fried gently in olive oil.
Accompaniments include fried potatoes flavoured with a little cumin, sautéed mushrooms and a sauce of sweet tomato and onion. Shots of vodka are also a familiar sight in Eastern Europe over Christmas.
The Christmas meal is usually eaten on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. It is also traditional to carry a scale of the carp, as a good luck token for the festive period.