Ryba po Grecku: Christmas Fish in Tomato Sauce

Wigilijna Ryba po Grecku

Ryba po Grecku (pron. ree-bah poh gres-koo, literally: ‘Greek-style fish’) is a Polish fish appetizer, served warm or cold. It’s a celebratory dish which one only sees on special occasions – Christmas Eve in particular.

‘Ryba po grecku’ is a delicate white fish fillet (cod, hake or similar), snuggling under a thick layer of shredded vegetables, coated in a rich tomato sauce.

Despite the name, a connection to Greek cuisine remains unclear. Polish-style ‘Ryba po Grecku’ is a bit similar to a Greek ‘Psari Plaki’ dish (source), was it a source of inspiration? I’m not sure.

For the full list of ingredients & detailed instructions, please see the recipe card at the end of this post. But before you scroll, there’s important stuff to know below.

The recipe became popular from the 1950’s onwards. That’s when it started appearing in post-war cookbooks. Its heyday fell in the times of the Communist regime – here’s a ‘Ryba po Grecku’ recipe from that time (link coming soon).

Luckily, ingredient-wise, we aren’t limited anymore. Today, ‘Ryba po Grecku’ gets improved (sometimes even reinvented) by chefs and home cooks all the time. 

And that’s what we’re cooking today: a richer, more festive version of ‘Ryba po Grecku’, with tomatoes (and not just a concentrate), dry wine, a touch of bell pepper and a fragrant note of cinnamon and ginger.

Do you need any special ingredients or equipment to make this ‘Ryba po Grecku’?

Most of the ingredients should be easy to source in any major supermarket. The only troublesome ingredient is the clarified butter. 

In Poland, you can purchase a ready-made clarified butter in a tub. But it’s better to use regular butter and clarify it yourself (here’s the instruction by Serious Eats). Alternatively, pop into an Indian store and ask for ‘ghee’.

Equipment-wise, you’ll need a box grater or a mandoline slicer. If you want to save some time (and energy too), a food processor does the job.

What should you serve with this Christmas Fish?

Traditionally, ‘Ryba po Grecku’ is served cold, alongside other festive dishes on Christmas Eve. It’s also a popular starter at family occasions and parties.

Ryba po grecku goes best with a few slices of fresh bread and some butter on the side.

Can you cook this ‘Ryba po Grecku’ another way?

Yes, you can try a few things:

  • Swap the cod for another white fish, for example pollock or hake. 
  • The fish itself can be baked (like in this recipe), steamed, grilled or fried.
  • You can serve the fish in a single baking dish instead of an individual portions
  • Try this classic, Communist-style ‘Ryba po Grecku’ recipe. It’s a more basic recipe, with carrots, parsley root and celery root.

What diets is this Christmas Fish suitable for?

This recipe is gluten-free. It’s also meat-free and is suitable for vegetarians who allow fish and dairy in their diets.

How long can you keep this Fish in Tomato Sauce in the fridge?

Once served, try not to keep it out on the dining table for more than 4 hours.

Chill in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Wrap it in cling film (or use a container with a lid). Otherwise, it will dry out and spread the aromas throughout the whole fridge.

Can I freeze this ‘Ryba po Grecku’?

Yes, but only if you want to keep any leftovers. Don’t make this dish with an intention to freeze it.

Place any leftovers in a freezer-friendly container  and cover with a lid. Label it with a description and a date. Aim to consume within 3 months. 

How do I reheat this Christmas Fish?

From chilled: ‘Ryba po Grecku’ is delicious when cold, personally I prefer it this way. But if you want to heat it up, place it in the oven for 10 minutes at 320°F (160°C).

From frozen: Leave the fish in the fridge overnight to thaw. Then serve the dish cold, or reheat in the oven (10 minutes at 320°F/160°C). You could also reheat it in a microwave for 3-4 minutes (that’s usually enough to warm it throughout).

Smacznego!

'Ryba po Grecku' Polish-style Christmas Fish with Vegetables in Tomato sauce on the festive table
'Ryba po Grecku' Polish-style Christmas Fish with Vegetables in Tomato sauce on the festive table

Polish Christmas Fish in Tomato Sauce (Ryba po Grecku)

Yield: 6 portions
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

This 'Ryba po Grecku' is traditional and delicious, and the sort of dish that one only sees on special occasions. Make it ahead of time and serve with some fresh bread on the side.

Ingredients

For the Marinade

  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ½ tsp sweet or smoked paprika spice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp ginger, freshly grated
  • 3 tbsp clarified butter / ghee; can substitute for olive oil

For the Dish

  • 1 lb (450g) cod fillets, fresh or frozen
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large carrots (300 g)
  • 1 leek
  • ½ red bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp clarified butter / ghee; can substitute for olive oil
  • 2 tsp ginger, freshly grated (substitute for ½ tsp dried ginger spice)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 can (14 oz, 400 g) chopped tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 pinch of sugar
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sweet or smoked paprika spice
  • ½ cup of dry wine, red or white
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste / concentrate
  • ½ cup parsley leaves, chopped

Instructions

  1. If your fish fillets are frozen, thaw them overnight in the fridge.
  2. Pat the fish dry. ‘Massage’ the fillets gently and check if there are no bones left to remove.
  3. Slice the fillets into smaller pieces, roughly 2-2.5 in (5-6 cm) long. 
  4. In a bowl, combine the marinade ingredients with a fork. Coat the fish in the marinade. Be careful - cod is fragile, it will break into pieces if you’re not gentle.
  5. Place the fish in a baking dish (or two if they’re small). They should be large enough to accommodate the fish on one layer. 
  6. Season the fillets generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Wrap the baking dish in cling film and store in the fridge for half an hour.
  7. In the meantime, let’s prepare the vegetables.
  8. Peel a large onion and grate it using the largest shredding holes (a food processor does the job too. Alternatively, just chop the onion finely with a knife).
  9. Peel the carrots, remove leek’s outer leaves (if dry). Shred carrots and a half of bell pepper using the largest holes (again, you can use the food processor instead). 
  10. Slice the leek into half-moons. Set all these veggies aside, we’ll need them soon.
  11. Heat the clarified butter over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add in the shredded onion and fry it for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. It should turn translucent and gain some colour a little bit.
  12. Add a teaspoon of grated ginger, one minced garlic clove and a generous pinch of salt. Stir it all in and fry together for half a minute.
  13. Stir in the canned tomatoes, a generous pinch of sugar and cinnamon, a teaspoon of paprika spice, half a cup of wine and tomato paste/concentrate. 
  14. Add in grated carrots, bell pepper and sliced leek and season everything well with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring regularly. Cook for around 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens and becomes fragrant. If you notice that the veggies become too dry, you can add some water or tomato passata.
  15. As the veggies cook, let’s cook the fish: bake the fillets for 10 minutes at 360°F (180°C). If you prefer, you can grill or steam them instead.
  16. Once the veggies are cooked, stir in ¼ cup of chopped parsley leaves.
  17. From here you’ve got 2 serving options - traditional and, what I call ‘fancy’:

- Traditional: Cover the layer of baked fish with the tomatoey veggie sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley. Serve hot or cold with some fresh bread on the side.

- ‘Fancy’: You’ll need 6-8 ramekins (these cute little bowls that Crème brûlée gets served in). Alternatively, cylinder shaped coffee cups work too. Greatest them with some butter or olive oil, fill them up with the veggie mix. Place fish pieces at the very top, push them in gently. If you have some fat remaining from baking the fish, you can pour it over the cups a bit. Store them in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. To serve, place the form upside down on a plate and then remove it by wiggling gently. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Notes

  • Cod fillets can be substituted with hake, pollock, blue grenadier. Some homecooks use a cheaper alternative called pangas catfish.
  • This recipe is inspired by three different recipes: Ryba po Grecku by Kwestia Smaku (recipe in Polish), Ryba po Grecku by La Cosina (recipe in Polish) and a recipe from 2019 "Świąteczne Ryby" booklet by MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) page 52

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 250Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 67mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 2gSugar: 10gProtein: 1g

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Sources:

  • ‘Ryba po Grecku’ column by Agnieszka Kręglicka in ‘Wysokie Obcasy’ magazine (May 2006 p.63)

Polish name:
Pronunciation:
Cuisine: Polish
Region / Subregion: all-Polish
Other traditional or regional names:
Also known as (including misspellings):