30-Minute Dinner/ all dinner recipes/ Christmas/ Dinner/ fish and seafood/ Occasion/ polish

Fish with savory gingerbread sauce (Carp in old Polish gray sauce)

30 November 2019

Have you ever eaten gingerbread sauce, but I don’t mean a sweet sauce, but rather a savory version of it? This fish with gingerbread sauce with raisins and almonds will sweep you off your feet! This is an old Polish recipe for a fish in gray sauce that is served for Christmas Eve feast. This sauce is made with actual gingerbread cake crumbs and gingerbread spice mix, red wine, and raisins. It’s seasoned with caramel and topped with flaked almonds. Sounds a little crazy? Maybe, but believe me, it is good. Don’t worry, this sauce won’t taste like dessert, it’s only slightly sweet, sweet and sour flavors are perfectly balanced. The fish fillets are stewed in the sauce making it really flavorful.

Fish with gingerbread sauce (Carp in old Polish gray sauce) on a white plate

HISTORY OF THE DISH:

Would you guess that this is a Polish dish? I mean, when people think about Polish cuisine, most often sauerkraut, potatoes, and kiełbasa come to mind, and surely not raisins and spices that the gingerbread spice mix is made with. Actually, before XVIIIth century Polish dishes were seasoned quite intensely, and spices like ginger, nutmeg, and saffron were quite popular (thanks to the trade routes with Middle Eastern countries). They were also used to season wine or beer (mulled wine and mulled beer were also popular in Poland in the old times). Since the XVIIIth century, with the increasing popularity of French cuisine, the dishes were seasoned more mildly.
Carp is a traditional Christmas Eve fish. It is usually served fried in batter, cold in jelly, or Jewish-style. Why carp? Communist authorities ordered breeding the carp (it was cheap and easy to breed) and were promoting eating it during the holidays. This custom has stayed and the carp is present nowadays on the Polish Christmas table.
I have found the oldest recipe for this dish in a Lucyna Ćwierczakiewicz’s cookbook ‚365 obiadów’ (365 dinner recipes) from 1860. The recipe calls for using the whole fish and its blood, lemon zest and juice, rye bread, roux, French wine, sugar, caramel, and raisins. I based my recipe on this recipe but used fish fillets, added gingerbread cake crumbs like more modern recipes do and omitted the blood!

ingredients for fish with gingerbread sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  • Fish – carp is traditionally used but you can really use any fish fillets that you like (except maybe salmon). Some say carp taste muddy, but with this sauce, you don’t have to worry. It’s bold-tasting and it masks any muddy taste that the carp may have. You can’t omit the fish – this dish can not be made vegetarian, it just won’t taste that good in my opinion. The sauce is good on its own, but it’s really transformed to ‘omg so delicious’ when you stew the fish in it. Ideally would be to use thin, skin-on fillets (like on the main photo).
  • Gingerbread cake crumbs – I used trimmed edges from these gingerbread squares. This gingerbread cake was not overly sweet (plum jam and chocolate add the sweetness) so if your gingerbread is very sweet you can omit the additional honey or just add a little more vinegar. Some old Polish recipes call for rye bread and not gingerbread, so you can also try adding that and then add more gingerbread spice and maybe sugar to the sauce (I haven’t tried this version but I’m quite sure it would work).
  • Gingerbread spice mix (you can make your own, more aromatic spice blend) – this brings sweet desserts in mind, but actually many spices that this spice is made of are often used to spice savory dishes (cinnamon, star anise, coriander, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice).
  • Sweet ingredients: raisins, honey, and sugar. Sugar – we’re making caramel from it (a small amount), it’s used to flavor and color the sauce. You can substitute it for more honey. I used light brown sugar for its taste, but you need to be careful when it’s melted and you’ll see the first bubble, add the wine. Since melted brown sugar is already brown it’s hard to observe the change of color and the sugar can easily burn and be bitter. If you’re not sure and have never made caramel before, use granulated sugar (white sugar), melt it and wait until it’s golden brown, then add the wine.
  • Sour ingredients: dry red wine and red wine vinegar. As I mentioned, this sauce is sweet and sour, so these sour ingredients will balance the sweet ingredients. Adding wine also contributes to the flavor.
  • Roux – roux is the base of the sauce, it is simply made with butter and flour.

HOW TO MAKE THE OLD POLISH GRAY SAUCE – STEP BY STEP:

1. Add 1.5 teaspoons light brown sugar to a small frying pan/pot, heat over medium heat until dissolved.

2. When you’ll see the first bubble on top, add 2 tablespoons wine, stir and cook for 30 seconds.

3. Add 3 Tbsp raisins and 1.5 Tbsp lemon juice.

4. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the wine is almost evaporated. Set aside.

5. In a medium pot (the fish fillets must fit in it, but it shouldn’t be too big) melt 1 Tbsp butter, add 1 Tbsp flour and whisk until combined.

6. Add 1 cup vegetable broth and 1/3 cup (0.9oz/25g) gingerbread crumbs.

7. Cook over low heat for a few minutes, blend the sauce until smooth (I used hand/immersion blender).

8. Add the content of the small pan/pot to the medium pot. Stir and cook for 2 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.

9. Season the sauce with 1 ts red wine vinegar, 1/2 ts honey, a pinch of gingerbread spice mix and salt and pepper to taste. Try to adjust the sweet-sour flavor to your liking (this will depend on what kind of wine you’ve used and how sweet your gingerbread cake was). The sauce will taste good but it will be much better after we stew the fish fillets in it.

10. Stew the fish fillets in the sauce – if you have small fillets like on the photo above add them both to the pot. If you have wider fillets like on the main photos you can cook 1 fillet at a time. Place the fish fillets in the sauce, cover the pot with a lid and cook the fish over lowest heat for a couple of minutes until the fish is cooked through. If you have thick fillets turn them over and cook on both sides. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fish. The fillets should be submerged minimum in half in the sauce. Be careful, the fish doesn’t need much time, overcooked fish with be rubbery.

Place the cooked fish on a plate, pour the sauce over, sprinkle with almond flakes (you can toast the almonds on a dry pan until golden). Enjoy!

How to scale the recipe: you can double all the ingredients and then cook all the fillets at once in a bigger pot. The fish just needs to be submerged in half in the sauce.

STORAGE + MAKE AHEAD:

I would recommend making the sauce ahead and stewing the fish in it just before serving. Store the sauce in the fridge for up to 3 days.

WHAT TO SERVE IT WITH:

OTHER POLISH DISHES THAT ARE SERVED ON POLISH CHRISTMAS EVE:

Fish with gingerbread sauce (Carp in old Polish gray sauce)

Carp in old Polish gray sauce that is served for Polish Christmas Eve feast.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 2 servings
Calories 343kcal
Author Aleksandra

Ingredients

fish:

  • 2 small carp fillets or other white-fleshed fish

sauce:

  • 1.5 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1.5 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons red wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/3 cup gingerbread cake crumbs 0.9oz/25g
  • 1 cup vegetable broth 240ml
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • a pinch of gingerbread spice mix
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • to serve:
  • 2 tablespoons flaked almonds

Instructions

  • Add the sugar to a small frying pan/pot, heat over medium heat until dissolved. When you’ll see the first bubble on top, add the wine, stir and cook for 30 seconds. Add the raisins, lemon juice, cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the wine is almost evaporated. Set aside.
  • In a medium pot (the fish fillets must fit in it, but it shouldn’t be too big) melt the butter, add flour and whisk until combined.
  • Add the broth and gingerbread crumbs. Cook over low heat for a few minutes, blend the sauce until smooth (I used hand/immersion blender).
  • Add the content of the small pan/pot to the medium pot. Stir and cook for 2 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.
  • Season the sauce with the red wine vinegar, honey, gingerbread spice and salt and pepper to taste. Try to adjust the sweet-sour flavor to your liking (this will depend on what kind of wine you’ve used and how sweet your gingerbread cake was). The sauce will taste good but it will be much better after we stew the fish fillets in it.
  • Stew the fish fillets in the sauce – if you have small fillets like on the step by step photos add them both to the pot, if you have wider fillets like on the main photos you can cook 1 fillet at a time. Place the fish fillets in the sauce, cover the pot with a lid and cook the fish over lowest heat for a couple of minutes until the fish is cooked through. If you have thick fillets turn them over and cook on both sides. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fish. The fillets should be submerged minimum in half in the sauce. Be careful, the fish doesn’t need much time, overcooked fish with be rubbery.
  • Place the cooked fish on a plate, pour the sauce over, sprinkle with almond flakes (you can toast the almonds on a dry pan until golden).
  • Enjoy!

Notes

  • Fish – you can use any fish fillets that you like (except salmon). You can’t omit the fish – this dish can not be made vegetarian, it just won’t taste that good in my opinion. The sauce is good on its own, but it’s really transformed to ‘omg so delicious’ when you stew the fish in it. Ideally would be to use thin, skin-on fillets (like on the main photo).
  • Gingerbread cake crumbs – I used trimmed edges from these gingerbread squares. This gingerbread cake was not overly so if your gingerbread is very sweet you can omit the additional honey or just add a little more vinegar. Some old Polish recipes call for rye bread and not gingerbread, so you can also try adding that and then add more gingerbread spice and maybe sugar to the sauce (I haven’t tried this version but I’m quite sure it would work).
  • You can substitute sugar for more honey (add at the end).
  • How to scale the recipe: you can double all the ingredients and then cook all the fillets at once in a bigger pot. The fish just needs to be submerged in half in the sauce.
  • Make ahead: I would recommend making the sauce ahead and stewing the fish in it just before serving. Store the sauce in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Nutrition

Calories: 343kcal
Course Main Course
Cuisine polish
Keyword carp recipe, Polish Christmas Eve, Polish gray sauce, savory gingerbread sauce

Did you make this recipe? Let me know how you liked it and give it a star rating in the comments below! You can also add a photo of your creation!

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