Polish Christmas Fish {Ryba Wigilijna}


The way this traditional dish comes to fruition is a bit unconventional, to say the least. Imagine going to the local grocery store on the eve of Christmas Eve to purchase a beautiful delicacy in the form of a fresh fish, no big deal right? You buy a few pounds worth of fresh (still alive) carp, bring it home (still alive) and put it in your bath tub filled with cold water. This fresh water fish will live in your tub for a few hours to finally sacrifice itself in the name of a delicious and irresistible Christmas Eve dish, served only one time in a year.

Carp is an oily fresh water fish that tastes briny and mildly fishy, with a flaky and soft flesh. It will be lightly sautéed in an oil and butter mixture for a thin golden brown crust and served as one of the 12 dishes presented during Christmas Eve dinner. I usually leave it as the very last thing to prepare before sitting down for this complex meal, and keep it warm in the oven, until after beetroot broth with wild mushrooms, sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi are consumed as the opening dishes. It will be accompanied by array of other fish and meatless dishes, like ryba po grecku or śledź w śmietanie.

I have trouble finding carp here in the U.S., so I’m going for a fish that is comparable in size and “meatiness”. I have prepared mahi mahi tuna this way before, and one, it tasted delicious and two, it very much reminded me of the carp prepared at home. This time, I’ve tried stripped bass and I almost can’t tell the difference between it and carp. This will work!

To prepare your fish, you will cut the fish’s head and tail off *, and then slice into steaks, keeping the fish bones in, like this:

It will soak in a salt water brine for a bit before sautéing, and after it’s done, it will be deliciously flaky, salty with crunchy edges.

Polish Christmas Fish {Ryba Wigilijna}

  • Prep Time: 2 hours
  • Cook Time: 20 min


  • 2 lbs of a large whole fish (I'm using stripped bass)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 tbs of flour
  • 3 tbs of oil
  • 2 tbs of butter


  1. Clean and wash fish. Cut head and tail off *

  2. Cut fish into stakes, as shown on photo below.

  3. Place fish in a bowl, add 2 tbs of salt, cover with cold water and refrigerate for 2 hours.

  4. Remove, rinse and pat dry.

  5. Sprinkle with pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish or a plastic bag. Add fish pieces to lightly cover. Shake off any access flour.

  6. In a large frying pan, heat oil and butter. Place pieces of fish and sauté for a few minutes on each side on medium heat. Remove and place on a pepper towel to soak up extra fat. If stakes are thick, finish in a 350 F / 180 C oven for a few minutes to cook through.


Serve immediately or keep in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Hope you give it a try.


With love,


ps. I’m calling this dish Ryba Wigilijna [ryh-bah vee-gee-leey-nah], which means “Christmas Eve fish” but in most cases it will be a carp {Karp Wigilijny}. There is a bit of controversy surrounding the humanity of how the fish is sold and delivered to the customers these days in Poland, but I think a lot of Poles are still very committed to this one-time-a-year treat and continue with the old tradition.

* save head and tail for fish soup or fish broth for fish in gelatin.


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